Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Stop violence against girls

Stop violence against girls
Kofi Asare
Public Agenda, 31st August, 2009

Located at the heart of Central Regional capital, Cape coast is the Adisadel Primary and Junior High School, one of the most popular basic schools in Cape coast, a city regarded as the cradle of education in Ghana. Cape coast boasts of the finest education institutions.80 kilometres afar towards the northern part of the region is a community called Tintimhwe, a cocoa growing community with a basic school-Tintimhwe D/A primary school. Unlike the usual characteristic differences between rural and urban schools-quality school buildings, qualified teachers school library etc, there is characteristic similarity between the two schools in question-The lack of school toilets.

Perhaps another similarity, neither structural nor physical but attitudinal is that girls in both schools visit the bushes to attend to natures call whenever they are in school, and exposes them to the dangers of sexual and other forms of physical and psychological violence. This writer is convinced that among the regular patronizers of the bush (popularly called free range) are narcotics and alcoholics who care very little about sexual rights and the dignity of girls. The fear of the above also affects retention in school.

The Big lottery (U.K) Funded Stop Violence Against Girls in School project is concerned about making the school environment safer for girls through the institution and enactment of the requisite policies and legislations that focus specifically on alleviating violence tendencies against girls in school. On the occasion of Children's Day in Ghana, it is time to pause and reflect on the state of child protection, survival and development policies and practices in Ghana, with a central focus, Violence Against Girls in school.

Article 4 of the International Convention on the rights of the child, which has been ratified by Government of Ghana states that "The State shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present convention....With regard to economic, social and cultural rights which includes the right to education. The right of access to free quality basic education for all children, especially girls is fundamental to promoting the survival and development of children in Ghana. Of tremendous concern however are issues of quality and gender. Ghana missed out of the gender parity target of 1:1 in 2005 and has since not been able to equate the number of boys to the number of girls enrolled in school. The issue is similar when it comes to retention. Boys have a higher retention and completion rate in basic schools than girls and this affect the performance of girls in the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE).

A careful observation and analysis of the situation indicates the lack of separate toilets for girls as a major cause of absenteeism for girls in schools. Adequate toilet facilities require the provision of separate and decent toilets and urinals for boys and girls in school. In 2008, the Ministry of Education reported that only 48% out of the total number of 13,247 primary schools have access to toilet facilities in Ghana with the highest proportion of primary schools with toilets (90%) in Tema and the lowest (10%) in Kintampo South District. At the Junior High School Level, only 52% of public schools had toilets with the highest (93%) in Dangbe West in the Greater Accra Region and the lowest (9%) in the Juabeso district in the Western Region.

The absence of toilets for girls does not only affect school attendance but also contributes to the denial of their right to dignity and quality education. The national completion rate for boys at the primary level is 91% whereas that of girls is 79% which suggests that boys have 10% additional chances of completing primary school than girls. This is the reason why the gender parity ration is 1:0.96 as against the target of 1:1 that was missed as far back as 2005. The situation is attributed mainly to the absence of a comprehensive and operational infrastructural policy of the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service, enventhough the ministry claims there exist one on the face but has seen little or no implementation and coordination.

The result of the apparent laxity in implementing and coordinating the said policy (if it exists at all) is to blame for the over 16,000 basic schools without toilets. Before i proceed to make any recommendations to the Government, i would like to humbly request of the Ghana Education Service to inform Ghanaians on what it has been up to all these years, until the realization that up to 48% of our basic schools have no toilets. Did this happen overnight? ...What about the past Parliamentary Select Committees on education and gender? .... And the Ministry of Women and Children. Were they aware our children, especially girls had no toilets in schools, and still expected them to pass and pass well? If they were aware, what did they do? What about the District Chief Executives who have led this county in the past....How did they feel in awarding school contracts that had no toilets at all? Children are a vulnerable group...with no voice and whose rights need to be protected and provided for. In that respect any person who attempts consciously or ignorantly acts in a manner as to deprive them of their right to dignity, development and survival cannot escape without blame.

This year's Children's Day should signal the time for action. First, no recommendation will work until our institutions are strengthened and do act professionally .Ghana needs strong institutions who can prevent even an N.G.O from building a school in a locality just because it has no toilet facility in its design ; a Ghana Education Service that can prevent District Assemblies from building schools without separate toilets for girls..or a Ghana Education Service that can lobby and advocate for the inclusion of girl friendly facilities at the District Level. This is what we need.....An Education Service that can leverage the political interest of politically motivated DCE's and the real development needs of the child ,especially girls...and a Civil Society that can monitor District Assemblies to make sure they implement infrastructure policies of the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry of Education should collaborate with the GETFund, Social Investment Fund, International Donors and other funding agency in basic school infrastructure to adopt a common school design which includes separate toilets and changing rooms for girls. The support of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education could be sought n this respect, to facilitate the harmonization of institutional interests between the Ministry of Local Government , Education, Women and children. This should not be left for the Infrastructure Coordinating Unit of the Ministry. It should be at the Ministerial level with the participation of the Infrastructure Unit. After interagency consensus has been achieved on the policy, the Infrastructure Unit may now commence the actual work for which it was set up-monitor and coordinate compliance of District Assemblies to the infrastructure policy. The unit may seek a court order to prevent any District Assembly from putting up any school building without strict recourse to the infrastructural policy for basic schools.

What about the over 16,000 schools already built without toilets? District Assemblies should be encouraged to come out with collaborative strategies to construct separate toilets for girls in such schools. This could be done by community-District Assembly partnerships where the DA's will provide cement and roofing sheets for such projects, with the communities donating labour, wood, and other local resources available. On children's day, the 31st of August, the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition as part of the Stop Violence Against Girls in School project wishes to entreat all and sundry to renew our commitment as a nation to making the school environment and the world a safer place for children. Long Live the Children of Ghana. Long Live Education For All. Long Live Ghana.

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