Human Rights Day 2021: Challenges to gender equality and the girl child’s right to education in Kenya

The theme of Human Rights Day 2021 is Equality, one of the pillars of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. However, 73 years later, people, especially women and girls, living in the poorest communities in Kenya and Uganda are among the worst affected by inequalities relating to their rights, development and education.

The principle of Gender Equality is at the centre of Aidlink’s work. In 2021, we worked to ensure that people living in the poorest communities in Kenya and Uganda were empowered and enabled to tackle poverty and live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Girls in school in Kajiado, photo credit Girl Child Network (GCN)

The Care Package Project- the equal opportunity to attend school

The challenges faced by the girl child from nomadic pastoralist communities in Kajiado and Turkana in Kenya were exacerbated by the closure of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. To these young girls, school represents not only as a place of learning, but also a place of safety from the risk of being of traditional practices such as FGM, early child marriage and gender-based violence.

Kenya reporting a 40% increase in teen pregnancies during the first 6-months of the Covid 19 pandemic. This dramatic increase in the number of teen pregnancies can be directly attributed to school closures and increased poverty levels. The impact of lockdown measures and the ongoing severe drought has accelerated poverty levels in Turkana and Kajiado. In times of crisis, the girl child is at greater risk of harmful traditional practices including early marriage, which is used to try ease the financial burden on the household.

School children in Kajiado, photo credit GCN

In January 2021, together with our longstanding partner the Girl Child Network (GCN) Kenya, we introduced a Care Package to our core education project. The focus of the Package was to ensure that girls who were in primary school pre-pandemic and had babies during the period of school closures, had the opportunity to return to school when they reopened in January 2021. Caregivers were appointed in 49 target schools to look after babies while young mothers attended classes. The young mothers received supplementary feeding for 3 months, with fortified food supplies for their babies for 6 months. Local health care facilities carried out regular health checks on both mothers and babies.

Due to the continued support of all our donors, and the tireless work of our partners GCN, 243 young mothers and their babies, and 5 pregnant girls, were re-enrolled in primary school and given the equal opportunity to enjoy their right to education between January-June 2021.

Lunch time in a school in Kajiado, photo credit GCN

“Girl Child Network came to my rescue. My father had refused completely to allow me to go back to school while leaving my baby with my mother. But the support from GCN allowed me to go to school with my baby, leave her with a caregiver and later pick her while going home. I sat for my KCPE and scored 339 marks out of 500. I’m lucky to be joining secondary school in July. I know I’m lucky because many of my friends have been married off.”

Sarah, Kajiado County

While we welcome the return of 243 young girls to our project schools, we remain concerned about the health and welfare of approximately 12,000 young mothers in Turkana and Kajiado. For these young girls, equality is far from their reality, and they may never return to school.

If you can, please donate today and assist young mothers in returning to school in 2022.