Tajikistan: Girls Lose Out on Schooling
Financial pressures add to commonly-held view that girls need education less than boys. Khosiat Najmiddinova’s two younger daughters may never finish school, as she sees education as a priority only for her sons. “To be honest, the children don’t have the clothes to go to school,” said the mother of six from the Tajik capital Dushanbe. “As well as clothing, they also need school stuff, and I can’t afford to provide it for all of them.”
Najmiddinova’s husband is away working in Russia, like hundreds of thousands of Tajiks. But when he stopped sending money home three months ago, his family lost their main source of income. Her two elder daughters, Sayora and Maftuna, left school after completing nine years – the mandatory minimum the state requires.
Although it is legal for a child to leave at this point, she will only have received what is designated an “incomplete education” and will not have the qualifications she needs to go onto higher education.
The two youngest daughters are still of pre-school age, but Najmiddinova says she will focus on sending her two sons to school, as she reasons that it is they, not the girls, who will earn money for the household later on. Sayora helps her mother with the housework, while another girl, Maftuna, has a job in a café.
The Najmiddinov family’s situation typifies the rising trend towards taking girls out of school early either due to financial pressures or because educating them is not felt to be worth the investment.
The drop-out rate for girls is much higher than for boys, especially in rural areas.
The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF reports that as of 2008, 25 per cent of girls left before reaching ninth grade. Often they dropped out after the four years of primary education, when they are about ten years old. Education ministry figures for the same year show that four out of every ten girls who did make it as far as the ninth grade left without taking up the option of two more years of schooling.
Although child labour is formally outlawed, girls who drop out of school are expected to work in the home, in the fields if they live in farming communities, or in other jobs if they are in a town.
Tajikistan’s National Centre for Adult Education conducted a survey of child labour in Dushanbe last year which revealed that of a sample of 230 children at work, 80 were girls who had left school early.
Some had only got as far as the fourth grade; others had never been to school at all, according to Irina Schasnovich who led the research. These worst cases generally involved children whose parents were either away working abroad, like hundreds of thousands of their compatriots, or were “internal migrants” – people who move from impoverished rural settings to look for work in Tajikistan’s urban centres.
Under Tajik law, it is a criminal offence to prevent children going to school within the required nine-year period, and a number of parents have been prosecuted over the last couple of years, facing fines of several thousands of US dollars.
Money is one reason why parents take their children out of school or, like Najmiddinova, give sons preference over daughters. As Schasnovich points out, some do not even bother to enrol them in school.
Schasnovich said that to get some of these children back to school, her survey findings were passed to the education ministry and a meeting was held with deputy head teachers in the capital.
Despite these efforts, she says, “The children on our list have not been brought into education even though teachers expressed a desire to help.”
Dilorom Jabborova, who heads a women’s group called Bonuvoni Fardo (“Tomorrow’s Women”), says the financial position of many households, including migrant families and those in the countryside, has got significantly worse as a result of the ongoing economic crisis affecting the region.
State education is free in Tajikistan, but as Jabborova points out, many families cannot afford the uniform and equipment a child needs to go to school. It costs about 50 dollars to kit out a first grade schoolchild with the basics, but the average monthly wage in Tajikistan is 60 dollars. More than half the population lives below the poverty line as defined by the World Bank.
Given the stark economic choices facing families, it is perhaps unsurprising that girls lose out as in the case of Najmiddinova, the mother who took her daughters out of school. When boys get married, especially in the countryside, they will remain part of their parent’s household, whereas girls will go off and live in their husbands’ homes, meaning their contribution to the family is lost.
Guljahon Bobosadikova, chair of the Association of Women with a University Education, says such traditional attitudes play a part in confounding every effort by government and other actors to ensure girls have equal access to education.
“Girls are commonly brought up in such a way that the main aim is for them to succeed in getting married and run a household effectively; to be subordinate to their husband and bear children,” she said.
The high drop-out rate means few girls make it into higher education. Their representation at college or university has been falling steadily from 34 per cent in 1991, when the Soviet Union came to an end and Tajikistan became a separate state, to 29 per cent in the current academic year.
Since 1997, the authorities have been running a quota scheme to get young women from remote rural communities into tertiary education. The education ministry says 635 students have entered university under the scheme in the academic year that started last September, a 15 per cent rise on the previous year, bringing the total number of female students currently benefiting from the quota system to 4,500.
Jabborova says Tajikistan has numerous regulations and programmes designed to improve sexual equality, and they are generally good. The problem is, though, that “they aren’t implemented, as there isn’t a specific structure or agency that’s responsible for actually ensuring they are put into practice and monitored”.
Like many other experts interviewed for this report, Jabborova believes the answer lies in public education programmes – making girls, their parents and religious leaders in this predominantly Muslim society more aware of women’s rights and the importance of education.
Bobosadikova adds that the media should be used to send out messages that education is both “important and prestigious”.
Abdulhamid Nozimov, departmental head of higher education at the education ministry, says teams of his staff go around the country trying to identify girls dropping out of education and encouraging them to return and take advantage of the university quota.
“To resolve this problem, we need collaborative work by all sides,” he said. Unfortunately there isn’t that kind of coordination, even though one would think everyone has the same goal.”
Nozimov would like to see education officials working with local government, prosecutors, local NGOs and international organisations to raise awareness among schoolgirls and their parents.
Schasnovich agrees that coordination is somewhat lacking. “There are many organisations working in this area, but each of them is doing its own thing,” she said. “We need a unified approach and consistency here…. One organisation might be able to identify such children while another could help with getting them into school or onto other educational courses.”
Bobosadikova says education offers women a route to a better standard of living and better legal protection.
“Years of observation show that educated women are less liable to be subjected to domestic violence and more independent financially,” she said. “Plus they make very good mothers.”
By Nafisa Pisaredjeva in Dushanbe.
Nafisa Pisaredjeva is an IWPR-trained journalist.
15 Apr 10 — iwpr.net
This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.
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