SWAZILAND — In Swaziland, a Southern African nation between South Africa and Mozambique, the government guarantees all children equal access to education, irrespective of gender. The country has nearly achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education, according to the 2015 gross enrollment ratio. This is a great accomplishment for female education in Swaziland.
The gender disparity begins at the upper secondary level and widens substantially at the higher levels of education. By age 20, 15 percent of Swazi women compared to 45 percent of Swazi men still enroll in school.
The divergent enrollment patterns reveal increased barriers for women to progress their education. Factors recognized as barriers to female education in Swaziland include poverty, gender insensitivity, HIV/AIDS and early pregnancy.
With nearly two-thirds of Swaziland living in poverty, education costs are far higher than what families can afford. And, high rates of unemployment understate the value of education for young men and women. Swazi women face cultural devaluation; men view them as less important. Men often seek young girls, aged 5 to 10, for domestic work.
The gender insensitivity of the school system gives Swazi girls little incentive to continue education. Institutional barriers, like gender-biased curricula and the absence of female head teachers, are relevant when considering the effects of gender inequality on female education in Swaziland.
In Swaziland, an adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 29 percent affects women’s ability to continue schooling. Within the population, HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rates are highest among young women. At age 15, 10 percent of women are HIV-positive compared to 2 percent of men; by age 20, HIV infects 38 percent of women and only 12 percent of men.
The gender difference in HIV/AIDS prevalence in early adulthood manifests the widespread gender-based violence in Swaziland. One in three Swazi women are sexually assaulted by age 18, and two percent of sexual violence incidences occur in schools, according to a 2014 National Surveillance Report. Another manifestation of gender-based violence is early pregnancy, which is perhaps the most pervasive barrier to female education in Swaziland; it accounts for 41 percent of the female dropout rate.
Fortunately, the government’s social objectives, outlined in Swaziland’s National Development Strategy (NDS) for 2022, involve lessening the effect that social contingencies, like gender, have on children’s opportunities in education. More specifically, the NDS recommends ensuring the right to continue school regardless of gender and incorporating gender-related topics into curricula.
But without a cultural overhaul, the promise of any strategies to narrow gender disparities in education may temper by the realization that gender equality in schooling is not confined to access or rates of enrollment and completion.
– Gabrielle Doran