Orphaned four years ago, Rose Mary Atim had lost hope of completing her secondary education.
With only an elder sister for a parent, who brewed alcohol to see Atim through school, she dropped out of school in S.2. But hope for Atim appeared in form of an NGO, the Forum for African Women Educationalists Uganda (FAWEU). FAWEU aims at bridging the gender disparities in education by working towards retaining girls in school and monitoring their performance.
This April, Atim was one of the 69 beneficiaries that received a scholarship from FAWEU, whose theme this year is: ‘It is a right; make it a right, education for women and girls now’. FAWEU national coordinator Martha Muhwezi said the organization seeks to highlight the plight of needy but bright girls who have excelled but cannot go further with school.
Atim has since returned to school and is in S.1 at St Katherine Secondary School Lira. She’s an excellent student. Besides scholarships, FAWEU mentors girls through talks on topics such as life skills, sexual reproductive health, career guidance and leadership.
At a recently concluded National Girls’ conference at Kitante Hill School, Muhwezi revealed that in the last 14 years they have existed, the organisation has grown from 19 at its inception in 1999 to 5,470 girl beneficiaries. A total of 625 girls have completed university and tertiary education and 2,309 are in secondary schools and vocational institutions.
When the girls finish school, they are retained as volunteers to improve their skills and earn some money. They also act as role models for other girls still in school. At the Kitante event, minister of Education and Sports Jessica Alupo said that through UPE and USE, government is committed to educating both genders.
“The ministry has retrained teachers, particularly senior women and men in gender responsive methodology to help reduce issues of molestation, especially between male teachers and female students,” Alupo said.
But despite these efforts, critics like Prof Christine Dranzoa believe there is a lot more to be done for girl-child education. In her research, the Muni University vice chancellor notes that issues like defilement, lack of sanitary towels and skills oriented programmes hinder girls’ education today.
Prof Dranzoa cites 61,888 defilement cases reported between 2003 and 2008, noting that one out of 10 children are defiled by close relatives and teachers. She suggests that government and other institutions encourage work-study strategies for vulnerable children.
“Students should be allowed to take part in work at school or in the university environment so that the money they get is an addition to their fees,” she says.
Dranzoa also suggests that government provides girls with sanitary towels so that they remain in school.