Female education in Nigeria

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Nigerian women in traditional dress

Women in Nigeria have had various challenges in order to obtain equal education. Education is a basic human right and has been recognized as such since the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. A positive correlation exists between the enrollment of girls in primary school and the gross national product and increase of life expectancy.[1] Because of this correlation, enrollment in schools represents the largest component of the investment in human capital in any society.[2] Rapid socio-economic development of a nation has been observed to depend on the calibre of women and their education in that country.[3] Education bestows on women a disposition for a lifelong acquisition of knowledge, values, attitudes, competence and skills.[4]


In the 1960s, when most African states began to gain their political independence, there was considerable gender disparity in education.[5] Girls' enrollment figures were very low throughout the continent. In May 1961, the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UNESCO’s educational plans for Nigeria were announced in a conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A target was set: to achieve 100% universal primary education in Nigeria by the year 1980.[6]
The implementation in the 1970s of the free and compulsory Universal Primary Education (UPE) was in line with this UN Plan.[7] Ever since, UNICEF and UNESCO and many other organizations have sponsored, research and conferences within Nigeria regarding the education of girls. Up until the 1970s, considerably more boys than girls participated in education in Nigeria. According to one Nigerian Historian Kitetu, the native traditions' philosophy was that a woman’s place is at home and this kept many girls away from education. However, with the government’s intervention and public awakening, parents began to send and keep their girl children in school.[8] Consequently, women’s involvement became more visible.
It can be noted that purposeful plans of action led to an increase in females in schools after 1990. While more boys than girls were enrolled in 1991, a difference of 138,000, by 1998 the difference was only 69,400.[8] At the pan-African Conference held at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in March and April 1993 (three decades after the UN Declaration of the 1960s) it was observed that Nigeria was still lagging behind other regions of the world in female access to education.[8][9] It was also noted that gender disparity existed in education and that there was need to identify and eliminate all policies that hindered girls’ full participation in education.[10]

Gender disparity in schools[edit]

Nigerian classroom
description=Female literacy rate in Nigeria by state in 2013
  > 90%
  < 35%

The combined gross enrollment for primary, secondary and tertiary schools for female was 57% compared to 71% for males in 2002.[11] This translates into fewer women in certain economic fields as well. The percentages of female workers in some selected professions were as follow: architects, 2.4%, quantity surveyors, 3.5%, lawyers/jurists, 25.4%, lecturers, 11.8%, obstetricians and gynecologists, 8.4%, pediatricians, 33.3%, media practitioners[clarification needed], 18.3%.[11]

Issues of gender equality in education have been the subject of much debate during the past decades and have become a prominent topic of debate in all countries. In Nigeria, there are large disparities between the education that boys and girls receive. Many girls do not have access to adequate education past a certain age. Currently, the female adult literacy rate (ages 15 and above) for the country was 59.4% in comparison to the male adult literacy rate of 74.4%. It is differences in education that have led to this gap in literacy.[12] According to the Central Bank of Nigeria the gender gap in literacy rates at the rural level between boys and girls was 18.3 percent in favour of the boys overall. However, in the age group 6–9 years (primary school ages) it was only 3.9 percent in favour of boys.[13] This indicates that there is a gender dimension to educational attainment and development in Nigeria. According to the Examination Council of Nigeria (1994) there are still other problems, such as high drop-out rates of females students, poor performance, reluctance on the part of females students to enroll in science based courses and poor classroom participation[14] Across various geo-political delineations in Nigeria, a greater percentage of school-age girls are needlessly out-of-school, compared with the ratio applicable to boys of same age grouping.[15]

The completion of the second Millennium Development Goal’s (MDG) target i.e. ‘education for all’ by 2015 is at risk after having missed the initial deadline of 2005. In Nigeria, educational facilities are generally believed to be inadequate and access is limited for many, especially girls and women.[16] According to the United Nations Human Development Report (2005), Nigeria was classified as a low development country in respect of equality in educational accessibility.[17]

Reasons behind the disparity[edit]

There are various cultural and socioeconomic issues that prevent women from having adequate access to education. According to work done by Denga, one prominent cultural view is that it is better for the woman to stay home and learn to tend to her family instead of attending school.[18] To explain the fact that more boys than girls participated in education, Nigerian researcher Obasi identified a host of constraints with 'Nigerian tradition' being named as top of the list.[10] The 'Nigerian tradition' was explained as a tradition that attaches higher value to a man than a woman, whose place is believed to be the kitchen. A study by the University of Ibadan linked the imbalance in boys' and girls’ participation in schooling was to the long-held belief in male superiority and female subordination.[19] This situation was further aggravated by patriarchal practices which gave girls no traditional rights to succession. Therefore, the same patriarchal practices encouraged preference to be given to the education of a boy rather than a girl. The decline in economic activities since the early 1980s has made education a luxury to many Nigerians, especially those in rural areas.[15] Because Nigerian parents are known to invest in children according to sex, birth order or natural endowments, girls and boys are not exact substitutes.[15] Often the family can only afford to send one child to school. Because daughters have assumed responsibilities in the home, she is less likely to be the one to attend school.[15]

At the beginning of colonialism and Christianity, rigid ideals about gender perceptions were imposed on the African mind.[20] Thereafter, the woman’s role has come to be limited to sexual and commercial labour; satisfying the sexual needs of men, working in the fields, carrying loads, tending babies and preparing food.[20] The disempowering colonial ‘ideology of domesticity’ as espoused by the practice of ‘housewification’ provided the springboard for women’s educational imbalance in parts of Africa.[21] As such, the overall human development in Nigeria is being hindered by this unevenness in educational accessibility across gender categories.[22] The Nigerian society (both historical and contemporary) has been dotted with peculiar cultural practices that are potently hurtful to women’s emancipation, such as early/forced marriage, wife-inheritance and widowhood practices.[23] As daughters self-identify as females with their mother and sisters, and sons as males with their father and brothers, gender stereotyping becomes institutionalized within the family unit.[24] Also, the dominant narratives of religion in both colonial and post-colonial Nigerian society privileges men at the detriment of women, even in educational accessibility.


While most of the Millennium Development Goals face a deadline of 2015, the gender parity target was set to be achieved a full ten years earlier - an acknowledgement that equal access to education is the foundation for all other development goals.[25] In countries where resources and school facilities are lacking, and total enrollments are low, a choice must often be made in families between sending a girl or a boy to school. Until equal numbers of girls and boys are in school, it will be impossible to build the knowledge necessary to eradicate poverty and hunger, combat disease and ensure environmental sustainability.[25] Millions of children and women will continue to die needlessly, placing the rest of the development agenda at risk. It is extremely important that girls have access to an education. For every additional year girls go to school, they receive 20 percent higher wages and suffer 10 percent fewer child deaths.[26] Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care, ensure their children are immunized, be better informed about their children’s nutritional requirements, and adopt improved sanitation practices. As a result, their infants and children have higher survival rates and tend to be healthier and better nourished. According to The International Center for Research on Women, the education that a girl receives is the strongest predictor of the age she will marry and is a critical factor in reducing the prevalence of child marriage.[27] The World Bank estimates that an additional year of schooling for 1,000 women helps prevent two maternal deaths.[28] Also, each additional year of formal education that a mother completes translates to her children staying in school an additional one-third to one-half of a year.[28]

Girls are not educated since she is considered a strain on the family's resources. Without an education, she cannot even voice her opinion, stand up for herself monetarily as well as emotionally, or battle the discrimination from a social pulpit. Additionally, girls are less likely to have access to education. UNESCO noted that this is due to sexual violence, insecure school environments and inadequate sanitation that adversely affect girls’ self-esteem, participation and retention. Textbooks, curricula and teacher attitudes have sometimes enforced negative stereotypes and have kept girls from receiving the education they need and deserve.[29]

Many policy analysts consider literacy rates as a crucial measure to enhance a region's human capital. This claim is made on the grounds that literate people can be trained less expensively than illiterate people, generally have a higher socio-economic status and enjoy better health and employment prospects.[30] If women are these illiterate people, that makes them even more disposable to their economy. Policy makers also argue that literacy for women increases job opportunities and access to higher education.[31] Although it is often viewed that a woman working in the home benefits her family, it puts a strain on the whole community as education is one of the keys to success and being able to prosper. According to Ojo, women in Nigeria are harder-hit than men by poverty due to the lack of emphasis placed on female education, and the prevalence of early marriage which tend to further impoverish women, and subject them to statutory discrimination.[32] The most important ingredient of employment opportunity is education, especially higher education. If employment opportunities are different, standards of living, life expectancies and other parameters of existence and of well-being, will be different. "For Nigeria to achieve the goal of being among the largest 20 economies in the world, she must rapidly educate the children, most of all, the girls. Educating girls is known to be the basis for sound economic and social development. Educating girls produces mothers who are educated and who will in turn educate their children, care for their families and provide their children with adequate nutrition," says Dr. Robert Limlim, UNICEF’s Deputy Representative. "Therefore educating girls translates to better health for the children, reduction in child morbidity and mortality, thus triggering off a snowball effect of achieving all the other MDGs in a sustainable manner."[33]

Current policies of progression[edit]

Currently Nigerian women are making many advancements within their society. In recent years, three male dominated professions, the Nigerian Medical Association, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, have been led by female presidents.[34] The subsequent creation of the National Commission for Women and a ministerial portfolio for Women Affairs provide additional avenues for the promotion of women's educational issues and the enhancement of the role of women in national development by way of a statutory body and a Ministry.[34] Today, more children go to school and learn to read and write than in previous decades. As a result, younger persons are much more likely to be literate than older persons. In a survey done by the International Education Statistics measured Nigerian literacy across different 5-year age groups. Among persons aged 15 to 19 years - those who were of primary school age in the 1990s - the literacy rate is 70%. Among persons 80 years or older, only 13% are literate. Additionally, the gap between boys and girls aged 15 to 19 is only 11%.[35]

Nigerian women’s access to formal education is still being constrained due to their unfair workload within the household division of labour. Consequently, the realization of the MDG3’s ‘gender equality and women empowerment’ targets is being impeded harshly.[36] Moreover according to Bhavani, such unequal social and gender relations needs to be transformed in order to take women out of want and poverty.[37] A 2007 UNESCO and UNICEF report addressed the issue of education from a rights-based approach. Three interrelated rights were specified and must be addressed in concert in order to provide education for all:[38]

  • The right of access to education - Education must be available for, accessible to and inclusive of all children weather male or female gender.
  • The right to quality education - Education needs to be child-centered, relevant and embrace a broad curriculum, and be appropriately resourced and monitored.
  • The right to respect within the learning environment - Education must be provided in a way that is consistent with human rights, equal respect for culture, religion and language and free from all forms of violence.

UNESCO estimates that an estimated $11 billion per year is necessary to reach the 2015 EFA goals.[38] The disparity between need and aid is apparent: aid sent to low-income countries to provide basic education in 2004 and 2005 was at an average of $3.1 billion per year. The Fast Track Initiative (FTI) provides one of the most promising paths to universal primary education by 2015.[26] Set up as a partnership between donors and developing countries and non-governmental organizations, the FTI endorses developing countries that put primary education at the forefront of their domestic efforts and develop sound national education plans. Nigeria is already maximizing these resources for the advancement of the younger generation.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and acceded to by 180 States, sets down rights for women, of freedom from discrimination and equality under the law.[25] CEDAW has realized the rights and equality of woman is also the key to the survival and development of children and to building healthy families, communities and nations. Article 10 pinpoints nine changes that must be changed in order to help Nigerian women and other women suffering from gender disparity. It first states, their must be the same conditions for careers, vocational guidance, and for the achievement of diplomas in educational establishments of all categories in rural as well as in urban areas. This equality shall be ensured in pre-school, general, technical, professional and higher technical education, as well as in all types of vocational training.[39] Second, is access to the same curricula, the same examinations, teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises and equipment of the same quality. Third, is the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education. This is encouraged by coeducation and other types of education which will help to achieve this aim and, in particular, by the revision of textbooks and school programs and the adaptation of teaching methods. Fourth, the same opportunities to benefit from scholarships and other study grants. Similarly, fifth is the same opportunities of access to programs of continuing education, including adult and functional literacy programs, particularly those aimed at reducing, at the earliest possible time, any gap in education existing between men and women. Sixth, is the reduction of female student drop-out rates and the organization of programs for girls and women who have left school prematurely. Seventh concern listed is the same opportunities to participate actively in sports and physical education. Lastly, is access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning.

Recommendations for reform[edit]

To empower the women in Nigeria, enhanced educational opportunities are considered expedient. Consequently, the University of Lagos has indicated that the following suggestions would be relevant in the process:[15]

  • The primary instrument to achieve socio-economic empowerment i.e. education mainstreaming should be used in a more effective and practical way so as to make real progress towards the attainment of the MDGs’ education for all’s goal by 2015 realizable
  • The secondary instrument i.e. specific, targeted actions such as abolition of school fees, free school uniforms, free feeding etc. should be utilized as a complement of mainstreaming strategies
  • Imperialist male-gender privilege, biased traditional and religious myths impeding women’s education should be de-emphasised in Nigerian society
  • An empowering educational approach, incorporating women as invaluable partners for social development should be encouraged;
  • Skills, capabilities and achievements should henceforth take pre-eminence over obnoxious gender stereotypes in classifying and rewarding people in Nigeria.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ http://econ.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTDEC/EXTRESEARCH/EXTWDRS/EXTWDR2012/0,,contentMDK:23004468~pagePK:64167689~piPK:64167673~theSitePK:7778063,00.html
  2. ^ Schultz, T.P. (2002). "Why Governments should Invest More to Educate Girls" World Development, Vol. 30 No.2 Pp 207 - 225.
  3. ^ Nussbaum, Martha (2003) "Women's Education: A Global Challenge" Sign:: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, vol. 29, no. 2 Pp 325 - 355.
  4. ^ Aliu, S, (2001). "The Competitive Drive, New Technologies and Employment: The Human Capital Link". A Paper presented at the Second Tripartite Conference of Manpower Planners. Chelsea Hotel, Abuja.
  5. ^ Swann, J. and Graddol, D. (1988) 'Gender equalities in the classroom talk'. English Education 22/1:48-65
  6. ^ Conference of African States on the Development of Education in Africa Addis Ababa, 15–25 May 1961 unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0007/000774/077416e.PDF
  7. ^ UNESCO. Gender and education for all: the leap for equality. Global monitoring report 2003/2004. http:// WWW.UNESCO/oc.UNESCO.org/education/eta-report/2003- PDF/chapter3.PDF.
  8. ^ a b c Kitetu, C (2001). ‘Gender in education: an overview of developing trends in Africa’. CRILE Working paper, Egerton University, Kenya.
  9. ^ UNESCO. "The Education of Girls: The Ouagadougou Declaration and Framework for Action" Pan Africa Conference on the Education for Girls. http://www.unesco.org/education/information/nfsunesco/pdf/OUAGAD_E.PDF
  10. ^ a b Obasi, E. (1997) 'Structural adjustment and gender access to education in Nigeria'. Gender and Education, 19 161-177.
  11. ^ a b Ojo, A. (2002). "Socio-Economic Situation", in Africa Atlases (Nigeria), Paris-France, Les Editions J.A., Pp. 126-127.
  12. ^ World Bank report. 2010
  13. ^ CBN (2000). Annual Report and Statement of Accounts 31 December 2000.
  14. ^ Examination Council of Kenya. (1994) Government printers.
  15. ^ a b c d e Adeniran, Adebusuyi Isaac.(2007) "Educational Inequalities and Women's Disempowerment in Nigeria" Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, Nigeria
  16. ^ Uku, P. (1992). "Women and Political Parties" in Chizea and Njoku (eds.) Nigerian Women and the Challenges of Our Time, Lagos, Malthouse Press Ltd.
  17. ^ UNDP (2005). Human Development Report, New York, University Press.
  18. ^ Denga, D.I. (1993). Education at a glance: From cradle to tomb. Calabar: Rapid Educational Publishers Ltd.
  19. ^ Uwakwe Charles, Ajibola Falaye, Benedict Emunemu and Omobola Adelore (2008). "Impact of decentralization and Privatization on the Quality of Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Nigerian Experience." European Journal of Social Sciences, Volume 7, Number 1. University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
  20. ^ a b Hammond, D. and Jablow, A. (1992). The Africa that Never was, Prospect Heights. Woveland Press.
  21. ^ Gaidzwanwa, R. (1992). "Bourgeois Theories of Gender and Feminism and their Shortcomings with Reference to Southern African Countries", in Meena, R. (ed.) Gender in Southern Africa: Conceptual and Theoretical Issues, Harare, Sape Books.
  22. ^ Abdullahi, G.L. (2000). "The Crisis of Democratization: Women’s Vision of the Way Forward", in Journal of Women in Academics, Vol. 1 No. 1, Sept 2000, Pp. 183-189.
  23. ^ Nmadu, T. (2000). "On Our Feet: Women in Grassroot Development", in Journal of Women in Academics, Vol. 1 No 1, Sept. 2000, JOWACS Pp. 165-171.
  24. ^ Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York,Routledge.
  25. ^ a b c "UNICEF - Goal: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women." UNICEF - UNICEF Home. Web. http://www.unicef.org/mdg/gender.html
  26. ^ a b UNESCO. (2008) “Education for All by 2015: Will we make it?” Global Monitoring Report. New York,NY UNESCO/SS/1. UNESDOC database: http://www.ungei.org/resources/files/154743e.pdf
  27. ^ Jain, Saranga and Kathleen Kurz (2006). ICRW research on prevalence and predictors of child marriage in developing countries.
  28. ^ a b UNICEF - State of the Worlds Children (2004) www.unicef.org/sowc04/files/Chapter2.pdf
  29. ^ Benedicta Ugwulebo, A (2011) "Female gender in Professional Education" FIG Working Week 2011. Bridging the Gap between Cultures. Marketing and Management of Professional Survey Education
  30. ^ Mark Kutner, Elizabeth Greenberg, Ying Jin, Bridget Boyle, Yung-chen Hsu, Eric Dunleavy. (2003) "Literacy in Everyday Life: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy" National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007480
  31. ^ UNESCO (2004) "the Plurality of Literacy and its Implications for Policies and Programs" UNESCO Education Sector Position Paper. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001362/136246e.pdf
  32. ^ Ojo, A. (2002). "Socio-Economic Situation", in Africa Atlases (Nigeria), Paris-France, Les Editions J.A., Pp. 126-127.
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  35. ^ Huebler, Friedrich (2008) "Adult Literacy in Nigeria" International Education Statistics
  36. ^ Opaluwah, A.B. (2007). "Nigerian Women and Challenge of MDGs", Daily Independent, Monday, March 12, 2007, Pp. B5.
  37. ^ Bhavani, K.K., Foran J., and Kurian, P. (2003). Feminist Futures – Re-Imaging Women, Culture and Development, London, Zed Press.
  38. ^ a b UNESCO (2007) "A Human Rights-Based Approach to Education for All" United Nations Children’s Fund; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization www.unicef.org/publications/files/A_Human_Rights_Based_Approach_to_Education_for_All.pdf
  39. ^ "CEDAW 29th Session 30 June to 25 July 2003." Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. Web. <http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm

External links[edit]