Traditionally, some communities in Kenya, like in many other parts of the world have favoured educating boys over girls due to cultural norms, economic considerations, or perceptions about gender roles.
In recent years, a commendable global effort has been underway to advance girls’ education, aiming to provide equal opportunities for their growth and success.
This movement gained momentum in the late 20th century, culminating in the United Nations declaring 1995 as the International Year of the Girl Child and designating October 11th annually as the International Day of the Girl Child. This was done in order to highlight and address challenges faced by girls as well as promote their empowerment and human rights.
Efforts to address historical gender imbalances have led to numerous initiatives focused on girls, in an attempt to rectify historical inequalities.
In Kenya, there have been initiatives and policies aimed at promoting equal access to education for girls. These efforts include campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of girls’ education, financial incentives for families to send their daughters to school, and the establishment of girls’ schools.
A recent visit to a primary school in Kajiado highlighted this noteworthy shift, where more girls not only had access to education but were also being encouraged, by way of scholarships, to pursue higher education compared to their male counterparts. Surprisingly, in the latest Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Exams, boys comprised only 36% of the total number of students who sat for the exams in that particular school.
A wind of change is definitely blowing through the Maasai community and perspectives regarding the treatment and opportunities for the girl child are changing. Mothers within the community are increasingly advocating for the education of their daughters.
The construction of schools in or near Maasai villages has improved access to education for both boys and girls. Building schools within or close to the community helps reduce barriers such as long distances that children, especially girls, may have had to travel to attend school. Recognising this need, Amara Charitable Trust constructed dormitories in two Kajiado based secondary schools, Najile Boys and PCEA Kimuka Girls and two more at Empakasi Secondary School located on the border of Kajiado South and Machakos County.
Additionally, the establishment of rescue centers plays a crucial role in safeguarding the welfare of the girl child, protecting them from practices like early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This shift indicates a growing awareness and effort to address longstanding gender disparities within the traditional Maasai context.
Many organisations advocating for the rights of the girl child may hold the view that the current trend is righting historical wrongs perpetuated by years of traditionally held beliefs that gave the boy child more importance over the girl child. They may even applaud this trend.
We tend to forget that there are cases of a boy child being denied schooling as he is assigned the role of herding cattle either for the family or as a casual hire for other cattle owners.
As a staunch supporter of empowerment of the girl child and women’s rights, I find myself questioning the need to place one gender above the other. Can we not create enough opportunities where every child, regardless of gender, is supported and uplifted?
As we celebrate progress in gender equality, it is essential to recognize that both genders play a vital role in the development of a society.
Education serves as a catalyst for positive change, not only in individual lives but also for the community at large. Educated youth can become advocates for gender equality, emphasizing the importance of education for everyone. They can help bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, ensuring a balance that preserves cultural values while embracing the benefits of education.
This year, during our annual secondary school enrollment interviews, a conscious decision was made to enroll more Maasai boys into the Education Fund Program, emphasizing the belief that every child is important and deserves an opportunity to succeed.
This does not signify a shift in our focus from promoting the well-being of the girl child. Initiatives such as menstrual hygiene and reusable pad-making workshops continue to ensure girls stay in school during their menstrual cycle as well as creating awareness in the community on the importance of keeping girls in school. Launched in 2011, these workshops have positively impacted over 50,000 girls from marginalized communities.
In September 2023, the program expanded further by training a group of Maasai mothers on sewing reusable pads, and even providing a sewing machine to them so that they could start a small-scale business.
Uplifting communities through various programs, whether it is enhancing school infrastructure, providing scholarships, or providing meals to young learners, remains at the heart of our mission.
We strive to make a difference where it matters most and are grateful to everyone who supports our vision. Together we can transcend gender barriers and create a world where every child’s dreams and aspirations are valued.