The history of gender inequality in access to formal education in Uganda: The case of Mbarara District 1901-2000
The main purpose of the study was to examine the history of gender inequality in access to formal education in East Mbarara district of Western Uganda with a focus on women .Gender is the social understanding of how sex manifests in behavior, personality, preferences capabilities and others such that a person with male sex organs is expected to embody a masculine gender. Gender inequalities are not only understood to be bad to women, but also constraints to development and growth. Gender disparities in access to education were observed in different parts of Uganda in 1975. The education of girls has lagged behind that of boys and for some time in Uganda women have been marginalized by men in various forms. This disparity could be witnessed by looking at the position of women in Government offices, higher institutions of learning, trade markets and private organizations where males occupied higher ranks while a good number of females served as their secretaries. In rural areas of Mbarara district, one could see a large number of females who failed to complete their education cycle and are using their efforts to realize local products of whose benefits are grabbed by men or their husbands. At the same time when their parents died, those ladies were denied rights to take share on the property left behind. All was shared amongst their brothers. The women that were marginalized in Mbarara district of western Uganda constituted the focus of study. The study was guided by three objectives; to establish the incidences of gender inequality in access to formal education, to establish the causes of gender inequality in accessing formal education, to examine the efforts that have been made towards solving the problem of gender inequalities in accessing education over the last century and to assess the impact of those efforts in Mbarara district over the last century. The study adopted a historical research design in which data collection was done. The population of 94 respondents were contacted for the study. The subjects included retired education officers, serving and retired inspectors of schools, serving and retired head teachers, religious leaders and opinion leaders all of whom were men and women selected from five counties under the study. Data was collected using questionnaires, oral history interviewing, Focused Group interviews, content analysis of records and archives. The study established that the first schools set up by missionaries in Uganda and Mbarara district in particular in early 1900s were boys’ schools which were particularly for sons of kings, chiefs and other boys from royal families in their respective kingdoms. Girl child education was considered later after their counterpart boys had taken a long step in education and management of public offices. The policy of missionaries was to evangelise and according to them, this mission could best be done by boys and hence were the ones who accessed formal education. The missionaries resolved to educate boys after they had observed the African culture by which girls were made to stay behind and learn how to carry out domestic activities and look after their siblings. The study revealed that some cultural factors hindered girls from accessing schools in Mbarara district. Dimensions of culture and gender were revealed in themes related to family and school culture. The gender issue included norms, values, assumptions, and practices related to economic support, house work, subject choice and punishment. The study established that shortage of female teachers in schools of Mbarara district contributed to persistent gender inequality in access to formal education. Most of the Teachers Colleges were for boys. Girls had limited chances of training as teachers and those who got the chance were faced with gender related problems like lack of soap, sanitary pads, enough clothing and private places for the necessary exchanges especially during their menstruation periods some of which caused them to drop out. This posed a continued shortage of female teachers in schools as most of these girls failed to complete their education cycle some of whom could have chosen teaching as their career. Male teachers gave greater attention to boys who were regular in attendance and showed greater enthusiasm for lessons. This increased support to traditional misconceptions that put men in a privileged position in all decision making. Men dominated studying, educational administration and policy monitoring and evaluation. The study established that in most schools of Mbarara district, latrine coverage was low and had un-lockable doors. Female students were uncomfortable sharing toilets with boys and were not free to make necessary changes in case of menstruation periods and this could cause them to be absent to avoid embarrassment. Furthermore parents’ economic status could not allow them to provide girls with all requirements for protection such as sanitary pads, soap and other necessary materials related to girls’ welfare. Girls always resorted to frequent absenteeism 9and consequently dropped out of school hence failure to achieve in formal education. The study established that strategies of promoting equal access of formal education have been adopted and have yielded some results. Following the Education Policy Review Commission of 1989, various strategies were instituted and these helped in promoting the education of girls. However, there are still more boys than girls enrolled in school (MOE&S,2005). Whereas preference for educating boys to girls has reduced considerably in the practice of many families in Mbarara district , the consideration of contributing to family income by girls domestic work and opportunity costs of educating girls remain unspoken and deep seated in consideration of many families. Though no longer a strong consideration, the tradition of son- priority still exists. The study recommends that the Ugandan Government should be clear on Universal Education programs. A strong follow up should be made to ensure that all children access formal education irrespective of sex. Government should put in place policies to deal with parents and guardians who stop students from attending school especially girls. The government of Uganda through the Ministry of Local Government should put measures to ensure the abolition of child labour in towns and villages. Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Education should put measures to address the needs of adolescents especially girls. Policies should be put in place to unite school authorities and parents in addressing the needs of the girl child. Policies should also be put in place to govern cultural norms and practices that have always hindered girls from accessing formal education.