Addressing the Challenges of Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

By Ayume Elly Joseph

Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Challenges to Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

2.1. Different Gender Roles

2.2. Poverty

2.3. Early Marriage

3. Solutions to the Challenges of Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

3.1. Achieving Gender Equality

3.2. Reducing Poverty

3.3. Eradicating Early Marriage

4. Conclusion

5. References

6.  Key Words and Definitions

7. About the Author

1. Introduction

Investing in girls’ education is viewed as one of the best ways to empower and equip them to contribute to the development of their families, communities, and nations (Levine, Lloyd, Green, & Grown, 2008). In South Sudan, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has set up transformative strategies to improve girls’ education and the government set it as the country’s priority to educate every child.

Nevertheless, access to education for girls is still a challenging issue in the context (MDGs, 2010) and, as a result, many girls and women have lower levels of education compared to their male peers (Levine, Lloyd, Greene, & Grown, 2008). The illiteracy rate for women in South Sudan is estimated to be 90%, and, according to Brown (2006, p. 20), the country ‘has proportionately fewer girls going to school than any country in the world’.

It has also been observed that rural adolescent girls are more disadvantaged and vulnerable than girls in urban areas, who are at school and have higher chances to receive education (Deng, 2003). Girls face systematic drawbacks in education that include gender-based discrimination, poverty, early marriage, and the burden of domestic work. In addition, South Sudan faces a continuing war. The recent United Nations International Children Fund (UNICEF) report (2005) indicates that 59.3 million children living in countries affected by war are out of schools and the majority of them are girls. Due to socio-economic, political, and cultural challenges, 80% of these girls are unlikely to start school compared to 16% of boys.

This entry aims to explore specific challenges that affect girls’ education in South Sudan.  The findings in this analysis intend to be helpful in improving girls’ education and reducing gender inequality in the national context.

2. Challenges to Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

2.1. Different Gender Roles

Cultural norms in South Sudan see girls as house wives or carers who should do all the domestic work (Deng, 2003; Shimeles & Verdier‐Chouchane, 2016) that includes cleaning, fetching water, collecting firewood, cooking, taking care of the sick and their siblings. The Girls’ Education Strategy for South Sudan (2015-2017, p. 4) states that such culturally-determined ‘customs and behavior are enforced by male community leaders, elders, fathers, uncles, brothers, as well as mothers and aunts’ who make decisions girls are expected to respect and abide by. Domestic work load alone stands as a major challenge to girls’ education in the country as it restricts the time they can spend on studying (Lacko, 2011). This gendered culture discriminates against and denies girls’ right to receive education. As Levine et al. (2008, p. 2) note, ‘girls spend more time than boys on domestic chores, which can restrict educational, social, and economic opportunities’.  It is evidence of real exploitation of the girls and is a major factor contributing to the rising number of illiterate girls.

2.2. Poverty

Poverty is another challenging factor that affects girls’ education in South Sudan. The recurring conflict in the country has increased the number of people living below the poverty level to more than 51%, as the South Sudan Bureau of Statistics (2008) identified. Pouch (2016 p. 4) reported that

The war and resulting humanitarian crisis have displaced more than 2.7 million people, including roughly 200,000 who are sheltering at United Nations (UN) peacekeeping bases in the country. Over 1 million South Sudanese have fled as refugees to neighboring countries.

More than 90% of those who fled to Uganda are women and children. More than 50,000 people have been killed in the recent fight in addition to the 2.5 million people killed during the liberation movement between 1983 and 2005 (Pouch, 2016).

Recently, government forces have been blamed for serious abuses against civilians during the war in Juba and its aftermath. The reported crimes include extrajudicial killings (e.g., burning people alive), enforced disappearances of people, looting and property destruction (including schools and families), sexual violence (raping of school girls and women), and torture (Pouch, 2016; Shimeles & Verdier‐Chouchane, 2016). These merciless incidences have helped increase the poverty rate from 44.7% in 2011 to 65.9% in 2015 (World Bank, 2016).

The renewed conflict in July 2016 in the country has driven many more families to poverty and, as a result, to a more limited access to education. The literacy rate for women and girls has dropped to 16%. Humanitarian and development agencies have been trying to ensure the provision of aid but many people could not be accessed in the conflict affected areas. The majority of illiterate girls are out of school due to living in extreme poverty (Yousafzai, 2016). Most women have to work through difficulties in order to earn a living for their children. Besides, some parents prefer to educate their boys rather than girls due to inadequate resources and since they value boys more than girls.

2.3. Early Marriage

Early marriage is another major challenging factor limiting opportunities for adolescent girls’ education in South Sudan. Some parents think that young girls are an economic burden and consequently wish to marry off their young daughters so that they do not become an economic liability. The problem of early marriage is common among pastoralists communities in the nation. It continues to be practiced as part of traditional culture. Early/forced marriage results into a large number of girls dropping out of school (Arabi, 2011). Some girls are forced to get married by their parents in order to get dowry since they are perceived as a source of wealth for their families (Brophy, 2003). The dowry is mainly in form of cattle. These girls who cannot resist early marriage have no option but to drop out of school and start taking care of their new responsibilities as housewives. The existing laws plan to address the problem of early/forced marriages, but have not been implemented fully because such cases are handled by village chiefs (Boma or Payam). Village chiefs prefer to address issues at the local level where constitutional laws are not followed as established.

Moreover, the current conflict in South Sudan has caused unexpected harm to the education system and made the situation of girls’ education even worse. Many schools have been destroyed and many young girls had to marry early. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) support the government in raising awareness about the problem of early marriage but the ideology is persisting, especially in rural communities that have limited access to education due to insecurity.

3. Solutions to the Challenges of Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

3.1. Achieving Gender Equality

Although the government and municipal leaders have sought additional support from NGOs to address the issue of gender inequality, no evident outcome can be observed particularly in the countryside. Therefore, more efforts are required to achieve gender equality. As Deng pointed out ‘while there is enough policy rhetoric about girl’s education, it is important to practically address the factors related to the demand for child labour’ (Deng, 2013, p.22).

One key recommendation would be to raise awareness about the benefits of girls’ education among male community leaders and parents, especially among those who persist in practicing harmful traditional family norms. They should understand how education can build capacities for sustainable development of the communities. For example, by educating girls we can improve economic growth and reduce infant and maternal mortality rate (Yousafzai, 2016). This can be done by organizing community dialogues and trainings for the community leaders and the education actors who will later educate the rest of the people in the society. Also, awareness can be spread through consultative and participatory meetings that are aimed at advocating for improvement of adolescent girls’ education and a gender balance in leadership, decision making, and other activities.

3.2. Reducing Poverty

To eradicate poverty and improve the economic situation of its people, government intervention is required. To ensure that, the government needs to seek to establish peace in the country. Only when peace is established, will the government and NGOs be able to provide social services such as education and health to the people. In partnership with NGOs, the government can design entrepreneurship projects for people to support the education of girls and youth in general. Furthermore, more efforts should be made to make girls’ education affordable, accessible, and of high quality (Herz & Sperling, 2004); and to provide support to families who do not have the means to send their daughters to school.

3.3. Eradicating Early Marriage

Early/forced marriage is an infringement on girls’ and women’s rights and health and its reduction and elimination need to be prioritized. There are many ways to address young girls’ marriage, although there is a strong resistance to their education in some communities in South Sudan (Lacko, 2011). The practitioners of such marriages need to be made aware of basic human rights, especially the right for children to receive education. They should be taught clearly that early marriage is a harassment which is against the rights of the child. 

The multi-sectorial approach which involves all sectors ranging from the community to the government level including NGOs is the best approach to be used to ensure that girls go to school, while also addressing the underlying problems of inequality and discrimination. Communities that abide by traditional harmful practices need to be educated on the importance of girls’ education to the family and community and its socio-economic benefits. The early marriage ideology can be discouraged when all actors know that an educated girl is more valuable than an illiterate one. Hence, encouraging girls’ education would be a resource in addressing early marriage and enhancing future sustainable education development in South Sudan.

4. Conclusion

The major challenges to girls’ education in South Sudan include gender inequality, poverty, and early marriage. First, traditional gender roles in South Sudan negatively affect girls’ education as girls are perceived as domestic helpers and are not allowed to attend school. Second, the long-lasting armed conflict has increased extreme poverty and worsened the country’s education situation, as 40% of the population lives with life threatening hunger. Third, early marriages that help families receive dowry for their daughters and/or remove the financial burden of providing for a girl, further exploit girls and threaten their health, wellbeing, and future. Good quality education, however, can provide girls with the prospect of a better life as they then can marry at a later age, have healthier children, and acquire better jobs and income. Education can also help them invest their resources in their children, families, and society. Addressing the challenges to girls’ education described in the entry is the turning point for families, societies, and the nation to develop sustainably. The need to enhance girls’ education is a responsibility of every actor in the nation. Hence, a multi-sectoral system of intervention in addressing girls’ education challenges is the best way to remove the barriers to girls’ education and enhance the quality of education for sustainable development. 

5. References

Ahlen, E. (2006). UNHCR’s Education Challenges. United Kingdom: UK: Forced Migration      

Arabi, A. (2011). In Power without Power: Women in Politics and Leadership Positions in South Sudan. Hope, Pain & Patience: The Lives of Women in South Sudan, 193-213. Fanele.

Brophy, M. (2003). Progress to Universal Primary Education in Southern Sudan: A Short Country Case Study. Background Paper Prepared for the Education For All, Global Monitoring Report, 4. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?        

Brown, T. (2006). South Sudan Education in Emergency. United Kingdom: UK: Forced Migration.

Deng, L. B. (2003). Education in Southern Sudan: War, Status and Challenges of Achieving Education for             All Goals. Sudanese Journal for Human Rights’ Culture and Issue of Cultural Diversity, 4, 1-27.  

Herz, B. K., and Sperling, G. B. (2004). What Works in Girls' Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World? Council on Foreign Relations.

Lacko, W. T. (2011). Education: The Missing Link for Rural Girls' and Women's Wellbeing in South Sudan. Ahfad Journal, 28(2), 15-32.

Levine, R., Lloyd, C., Greene, M., & Grown, C. (2008). Girls Count: A global Investment and Action Agenda. pare, 34(4), 395-424.

Pouch. L. B. (2016), Conflict in South Sudan and Challenges Ahead. Retrieved from; https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43344.pdf

Shimeles, A., and Verdier‐Chouchane, A. (2016). The Key Role of Education in Reducing Poverty in South Sudan. African Development Review, 28(S2), 162-176.

Sudan Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). (2010). Report. Government of Southern Sudan, Southern Sudan Centre for Census Statistics and Evaluation. Retrieved from http://preview.tinyurl.com/jjbfg4j

The Girls’ Education Strategy for South Sudan (2015). South Sudan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST). UNICEF South Sudan and other contributors. Retrieved from http://www.ungei.org/resources/6093.htm

United Nation International Children Funds. (UNICEF). (2003). The State of the World's Children 2004-Girls, Education and Development. UNICEF.

United Nation International Children Fund. (UNICEF). (2015). South Sudan Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/files/SSudan_Annual_Report_2015.pdf

United Nation International Children Fund. (UNICEF). (2005).  A Report Card on Gender Parity and Primary Education (No. 2). UNICEF. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/zoknekg

World Bank, (The). (2016). Working a World Free Poverty. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southsudan/overview

Yousafzai, M. (2016). Foreword. In Sperling G., Winthrop R., Kwauk C., and Yousafzai M. (Authors). What Works in Girls' Education: Evidence for the World's Best Investment (pp. xvii-xx). Brookings Institution Press.

6.  Key Terms and Definitions

Adolescence: a person aged between 13 and 19,  the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood.

Gender Role: is a set of societal norms that dictate the type of work which is routinely done by a man or a woman based on the actual or perceived sex.

Early Marriage: is a union between two persons where one or both individuals are younger than 18 years old.

About the Author

Ayume Elly Joseph

MEd student, University of Hong Kong

Email: ayumeelly@yahoo.com