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Breaking the chains of gender stereotypes in Nigeria’s education

Education is a potent and dynamic instrument for national development and social transformation. Over the years, Nigeria has expressed commitment to education with special emphasis on female education. 
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Education is a potent and dynamic instrument for national development and social transformation. Education is internationally accepted as a pointer to a key development in a nation. It is in recognition of this importance that governments all over the world have made commitments for their citizens to have access to education. Over the years, Nigeria has expressed commitment to education with special emphasis on female education.

Section 18 of the Nigerian Constitution, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act 2004, the Child Rights Act 2003, and Article 17 of the African Charter guarantee the right of every Nigerian child to education. The UBE Act and the Child Rights Act also made provision for free and compulsory basic education up to junior secondary level for every child. Despite all these efforts, the girl-child education attainment is low as the majority of girls drop out for various reasons before completion of junior secondary education.

Gender stereotypes can be referred to as roles or a pattern of behaviour placed on a particular sex by society, mostly beliefs, illogical ideas and false phrases. It is referred to as a collection of commonly held beliefs or opinions about behaviours and activities considered by society as appropriate for males and females. Also, in a study conducted by Perry and Pauletti in 2011, they defined gender stereotypes as “people’s beliefs about how the sexes differ (descriptive stereotypes) or should differ (prescriptive stereotypes).

For this present piece, gender stereotypes refer to sociocultural beliefs and practices, which tend to limit the girl-child’s rights to education. It is an overgeneralization, a category concept that is learned, factually incorrect, rigid and persistent.

Gender stereotypes have long permeated societies around the world. This has shaped perceptions of what it means to be male or female and influenced the opportunities available to individuals based on their gender. Scholar Beck noted that boys have been distinguished from females right from birth as parents associate girls with pink and boys with blue. Despite their growing presence in the labour force and educational institutions in the last few decades, women remain socially marginalized.

Traditionally, Nigerian society has been patriarchal, with rigid gender roles dictating the roles and expectations of men and women. In Nigeria, these stereotypes have a great impact on girls’ access to education, perpetuating inequalities and limiting their potential for academic and personal growth. From the moment a child is born the gender role education process begins. Male child is perceived as an asset that is highly treasured in most Nigerian homes. Ugodo Comfort, a 30-year-old Nigerian recounted her experience while she was much younger. She mentioned her older and younger brothers were allowed to go to school while the girls in the house were asked to stay back because of funds and because they didn’t need education as their brother did.

In education, priority is usually given to men because of the cultural perception of their role as breadwinners. For females, the belief is that they will eventually marry and ‘come under’ their husbands hence they are treated as inferior. Girls were often relegated to domestic roles and seen as less deserving of formal education. In many communities, traditional beliefs about gender roles and responsibilities continue to influence parents’ decisions regarding their daughters’ education. Girls may be discouraged from pursuing academic aspirations in favour of early marriage or domestic duties. This behaviour encourages the cycle of inequality and limits Gilschild’s opportunities for personal and professional development.

There are also systemic barriers that further fuel the impact of gender stereotypes on girls’ education in Nigeria. These barriers include limited access to quality education facilities, inadequate resources and infrastructure, and biases within the education system itself. Girls from rural communities are particularly vulnerable to these barriers. These challenges may include long distances to school, lack of female teachers as role models, and insufficient support for menstrual hygiene management.

Gender stereotypes on girls’ education in Nigeria have profound implications for their educational attainment and future ambitions. Research has shown that girls are less likely to enrol in and complete primary and secondary education compared to boys, with factors such as early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and gender-based violence further disputing their progress (especially in rural areas). As a result, girls are often denied the opportunity to reach their full potential. This act increases the cycles of poverty and inequality across generations.

Gender stereotypes also indicate that girls should prioritise household chores or early marriage over education. Consequently, many families choose to invest in the education of male children, while girls are kept at home. Gender stereotypes contribute to the prevalence of early marriage and teenage pregnancy among girls in Nigeria. Once married or pregnant, girls are typically forced to drop out of school due to stigma, shame, societal expectations and lack of support systems. This not only deprives them of their right to education but also perpetuates a cycle of poverty and limited opportunities.

Even for girls who manage to attend school, gender stereotypes often result in lower expectations of their academic performance and future aspirations. There are career paths that only consider men and prevent women from reaching the peak of their careers. Dr Paulyn Osobhase Abhulimen-Okpalefe, SAN in an interview with THIS DAY recounted how hard it was for her to become a SAN because of her gender. She mentioned that the journey that took her male colleagues a few years took her 10 years as she was doubted several times in the course of her career all because of her gender.

Teachers also may unknowingly (or knowingly) treat them differently in the classroom. This can negatively affect their educational outcomes. These stereotypical beliefs against the female gender have become embedded in the minds of girls and women as they internalise these faulty messages from authority figures (parents and community). As a result of this, the girl-child suffers emotional disorientation, which at times results in feelings of insecurity.

These beliefs together with other socialising processes observed for boys and girls are designed to instill a feeling of superiority to boys while girls are groomed to accept subjugation and inferiority with apathy (Raswork, 2006). Most of the common stereotypes that appear to threaten the female gender including the belief that men are stronger than women, the belief that men are the breadwinners (even though it is known to be untrue in this current economy), and the belief that the education of women is a waste of resources, among many others. Sandra Aguebor also known as Lady Mechanic and Nigeria’s first female automotive mechanic is challenging one of the biggest stereotypes in Nigerian society: that only men can fix cars. In an interview with CNN in 2022, she mentioned that men thought that she was crazy when she decided to be a mechanic. She believed nothing is impossible and since her journey in this career started, she has trained more than 1,000 vulnerable women in five Nigerian states.

According to the Harmful Traditional Practices Survey against Women and Girls in Nigeria (Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development 1999) it was revealed that proverbs and local sayings act as psychological constraints against transforming societal attitudes and behaviour. This practice has further helped to undermine girls’ self-esteem.

Despite the formidable challenges posed by gender stereotypes, there are encouraging signs of progress and resilience within Nigerian communities. Efforts to promote girls’ education and challenge gender norms are at work at various levels, including government initiatives, NGOs, grassroots organisations, and international partnerships. These efforts focus on initiatives such as girls’ empowerment programs, policy reform and women’s inclusion programs, and community outreach to raise awareness about the importance of gender equality in education. As a result, many women are now being involved in politics, education, entertainment, policy making, and so on.

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