WEST NILE, Uganda — A study of girls’ education in West Nile, Uganda reveals that the reasons for high dropout rates are much more complex than the commonly stated factors of child marriage and pregnancy.
The 2011 study took place in a rural community with one of the highest poverty levels in Uganda. Livelihoods generally consist of subsistence agriculture in this region. Fertility rates are rising in the community compared with other parts of the country, where the trend is a decline in fertility rates.
The International Center for Research on Women and partner organizations interviewed 805 girls aged 14-18 in the community. The questions were related to conditions in their homes, education opportunities, and gender roles. Life-history calendars helped researchers to understand important events in the lives of these girls. Additional interviews were carried out with mothers, fathers, and other community members.
The complexities of the results of the study arose because it was difficult to determine the causal order of events in the lives of young girls. Pregnancy did not necessarily precipitate dropout from school. In addition, there were no direct links of first sexual experience and romantic relationships to dropout rates.
It is the intersection of factors, such as gender and socioeconomic status, that affect the lives of young girls. The study revealed that 30 percent of the girls surveyed had left school. Even though 25 percent of girls surveyed had already had sex, less than 50 percent knew how to prevent pregnancy.
The inability to pay school fees is a significant barrier to education access for many girls. One young woman, Irene, explained, “The death of my father and the inability of my mother to pay my school fees made me do petty business to support my schooling… I would miss classes sometimes.”
Eventually Irene had to drop out of school, and at this point decided to marry her boyfriend. Soon after, Irene became pregnant. She would like to attend school again, but for now is simply trying to support her husband and one-year-old child.
The study revealed the following 4 determinants of whether a young girl will drop out of school:
1. A girl’s own gendered beliefs
2. A girl’s self-rated school performance
3. Family’s gendered expectations for her
4. Education level of her mother
These results have important implications for further research and policy. For example, it is critical that girls begin school on time in order to help boost their performance and confidence. In addition, while pregnancy may not be the number one cause of dropout, policies can help young, pregnant women remain in school and return to school even when they have children.
An important conclusion is that the gendered beliefs of families and communities will greatly impact the life of a young girl. Therefore, programs to decrease the school dropout rate of young girls will have to include all members of the community.
– Iliana Lang
Sources: FAWE, ICRW,
Photo: Jimmy Pribble Photography