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This study examined public perception of girl child education among rural dwellers in Awka North L.G.A: Implications for social work practice. Data for the study were drawn using the questionnaire and in-depth interview. Data were analysed using the chi-square. Using a sample size of 521 (made up of 509 questionnaire respondents and 12 interviewees), findings of the study revealed that male respondents have negative views about educating a girl-child than female respondents; respondents with higher level of education have positive views on educating the girl-child; those with high income have positive view on educating their female children than those with low income; and, younger respondents have positive perception of girl-child education than older respondents. Based on these findings, the study recommended, among other things, that the government should intensify efforts to improve the standard of education in the rural areas, that social workers should cover more rural areas so as to avail them the opportunity of having expert advice and counselling on the need to educate the girl-child among other things. 


1.1 Background to the study

The girl-child, according to Offorma (2009) is the biological female offspring from birth to 18 years of age. This is the age before one becomes young adult. This period covers the crèche, nursery or early childhood (0–5years), primary (6–12years) and secondary school (12– 18years). During this period, the young child is totally under the care of the adult who may be her parents or guardians and older siblings. At this stage, the girl-child is malleable, builds and develops her personality and character. She is very dependent on the significant others, those on whom she models her behaviour, through observation, repetition and imitation.

Her physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional developments start and progress to get to the peak at the young adult stage (Offorma, 2009). The position of the girl-child in the family and the society at large has biological and historical antecedents. Buttressing this fact, Oyigbenu (2010) observed that the girl-child, and indeed women the world over, especially in Africa and Nigeria, have had their destiny sealed from birth by tradition and culture on account of their sex.

Continuing, Oyigbenu (2010:7) disclosed that they have been called the weaker sex in order to justify societal discrimination and oppression against them. They must remain silent hewers of wood and drawers of water, bearers of children, and toilers of arduous labour from sun-rise to sun-down. They can be seen but not to be heard in both the private and the public spheres of decision making. The girl-child by the natural status ascribed to her by male-defined norms of societal conduct and behaviour remains a property to be owned and commoditized. Consequently her rights appear to be circumscribed by tradition, custom, and the chauvinism of male patriarchy in most cultures. 

A consequence of the above scenario is that right from birth the girl-child is placed on an unequal position with the male child thus putting her chances and extent of possible life achievement in jeopardy. One major area this unequal treatment is manifest is in the area of formal education. Without education the girl child suffers. This is aptly summarized by Hagher (2002) when he noted that without school, no job; without job, no husband, and no beautiful clothes.

This position is supported by Oyigbenu (2010) when he stated that lack of access to education is indeed the end of the world, because without it there is certainly no future for the girl-child in the strict sense of full inclusion and participation in the development process, self actualization, self-fulfilment and personal freedom. The need to educate the girl child is informed by the fact that purposeful occupational achievement and satisfaction is ensured by deep self-awareness and understanding which can only be achieved through the provision of effective and functional education. This, according to Oniye (2003), is likely to guarantee women empowerment with its root based on women’s struggle to improve their status.

The empowerment suggested is such that entails the process of challenging power relations and of gaining wider control over source of power and economic self-sustenance. This, however, cannot be achieved without the provision of reasonable access to formal and functional education to the women folk. This is based on the premise that education has been adjudged to be a viable instrument of positive change (Oniye, 2003; National
Policy on Education, 2004). 

From the foregoing, it could be understood that there tends to be a general belief that the girl-child is not given equal educational opportunities like their male counterparts due to a number of socio-cultural and socio-economic factors. For instance, scholars like Oleribe (2002a & 2002b), Oniye (2003) Akufua (2008), and Offorma (2009) have identified such factors to include poverty, gender, too much responsibilities being given to girls, and the level of education of parents. Amao-Kehinde (2001) observed that girls between the ages of 6 and 12 years tend to be given more responsibilities than boys. Time spent on household duties reduces study time for young girls (Nwaji, 2011).

Some parents also create disparity in the home by saddling the girls with work which will not give them enough time to read all in the name of preparing her for her role in the kitchen (Omolewa, 2008). In some parts of the country where female seclusion is practiced, women have less access to education because many parents feel reluctant to send their daughters to school. Nwankwo (2007) believes that preference is still given to the schooling of boys to that of girls in some families. To some families, Nwankwo (2007) noted, there is little or no point spending their money educating women since they are often considered other people’s property. Thus, it is believed that there is no need to make sacrifices to send the girl child to school.

This actually affects national development, considering the high population of females in Nigeria (Maduewusi, 2001). Nwankwo (2007) also noted that sometimes, when parents could not cope with economic pressures in the home, women (girls) will be withdrawn from school to give way for the boys who are regarded as the breadwinners. Eboh (2001) observed that the girl-child is used most often to fight poverty in the family by withdrawing them from school to do street hawking, prostitution or begging or given out in early marriage. Ezema (2009) pointed out that men are ever anxious to get their daughters married off in order to use the bride prize to solve problems.

 Added to the above, the level of education of parents tends to influence their attitude towards the education of the girl-child. This is the opinion of Lawal (2003) who observed that majority of female children from educated parents or foster parents tend to be encouraged to  acquire Western education unlike those of not very educated parents. This is so because it is believed that educated parents are well versed on the benefits of educating the girl-child unlike those still unable to look at the essence of education above cultural or traditional perspective.

 Cultural stereotypes and attitudes have the propensity to create tendencies for women (specifically young girls) to feel inferior and push them towards domestic, labour-intensive and low-paying work (Ojobo, 2008). In Nigeria generally and Anambra State in particular, the situation may not be very different. Anambra state, just like many other states in Nigeria is predominated by rural areas and it remains uncertain the extent to which the public perceives the girl-child as being given equal educational opportunities like the males and what social workers are expected to do in this area.
From the above exposition, it could be observed that various scholars that have carried out studies on girl-child education tend to indicate that there is a huge gap between the educational opportunities afforded both male and female children. However, none of these scholars investigated how true this public perception of girl-child education is among rural dwellers and its implications for social work practice in Awka North L.G.A. of Anambra State.
The task set before this study, therefore, is that of filling this gap.


1.2 Statement of the problem

Societal development requires the joint efforts of males and females. Development in essence creates equal opportunity for all irrespective of age or gender. However, in as much as girls and boys are regarded as equals during infancy, there is a tendency for some sort of disparity or what is generally known as gender gap to develop as they grow up. That women are active partners in the development of any society is a fact that cannot be taken for granted.

It is saddening, however, to note that more than twenty years after the Beijing commitment to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, millions of children, especially girls, are still perceived as not making it into school, despite a concerted international effort to champion the cause. In some African countries, the gender gap is even believed to be widening and discrimination continues to permeate the educational systems (Oleribe, 2007). Thus Oleribe (2002a) asserted that empowerment through education is sometimes seen as a means of challenging male domination and subordination of women and upturning structures and institutions in the society.

This misunderstanding has led to some level of apathy towards the education of the girl-child. Apathy thus gives rise to several hindrances to the education of women. Not only that, several factors, in Oleribe’s opinion, tend to hinder the maximization of the potentials of women in the development of the society. These prohibiting factors can be encapsulated within the broad framework of lack of empowerment through education, culture and religion. 

The above assertion is further reinforced by the views of Akinsanya & Akinsanya (2008), that even though it is true that many governments make provision for the education of their citizens, the provisions most of the time do not take cognizance of the peculiarities of the girlchild. In that case the girl-child may not have access to education, which is a fundamental human right. Researches by Yahaya (2009) and Oleribe (2002b) have shown that millions of girls do not have access to school despite the concerted efforts to push the course forward. Okeke, Nzewi & Njoku (2008) identified child labour, poverty, lack of sponsorship, quest for wealth, bereavement, truancy, broken home, engagement of children as house helps as obstacles to children’s access to education in the areas which they referred to as UNICEF A-Field (made up of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and River states of Nigeria).
Even though educating girls has been repeatedly shown to have several benefits such as increasing their self-esteem, increasing their influence over their own lives and family and community decisions, lowering fertility, improving maternal and child health, and helping in decreasing environmental degradation, however, considerable resistance still exists in developing countries with regard to educating girls (Joshi, 2005). When the girl child is not
educated or empowered, a number of negative outcomes predictably follow.

For instance, the girl child is likely to have low self-esteem (Akufua, 2008), likely to suffer some kind of abuses, unable to secure well-paid jobs, more likely to be excluded from decisions affecting her in the family and likely to have low level knowledge on issues relating to family health among others. In the short run, inability to educate girls, according to Imoke (2009), will be a sign of defeat of Goal 3 (promote gender equality and empower women) of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Over the years, the Nigerian girl-child has been neglected (Oleribe, 2002a). In some extreme cases, she is not always involved in decision making, is often utilized at homes without due remunerations, kept as home keeper and in some cases not allowed to earn a living for herself and used as house girl (Fishel, 1998; Oleribe, 2002a; Oleribe, 2002b; Sarwar & Sheikh, 1995). She is hardly given a chance to make her own choices. These scholars tend to believe that the girl-child is consigned to living in the shadows of the men folk given the fact that they are denied the necessary empowerment opportunities which education can afford. 

DuBois & Miley (2010) observed that when people experience empowerment, they feel effective, conclude that they are competent, and perceive that they have power and control over the course of their lives. They tend to recognize the interconnections among the personal, interpersonal, organizational, and community arenas of empowerment. The values of the social work profession support an empowerment base for practice. Social work adopts a view that suggests that humans are striving, active organisms who are capable of organising their lives and developing their potentialities as long as they have appropriate environmental supports (DuBois & Miley, 2010). This standpoint links with the purpose of social work as a way of releasing human and social power to promote personal, interpersonal, and structural competence. Thussocial workers generate solutions that they uniquely tailor to the dynamics of each situation, society or environment.
Flowing from the argument thus far, one is left to wonder whether on the average, parents do not really equate the same benefits accruable from educating boys to that of girls. In order words, since the girls are generally expected to marry out of the family while the boy stays put and carries on the name of the family, there might be a tendency to feel that whatever education is given to the girl child will ultimately be to the development of her conjugal family, and not her paternal one. This tendency betrays the patrilineal bias inherent in African culture as the females are ultimately seen as belonging to someone else; not necessarily her family. This cultural undertone is also observable in the fact that women are expected to change their names to that of the men they eventually get married to.
From the foregoing, it could be seen that many scholars are of the view that the girl-child has limited access to education. Citing issues like poverty, apathy, religion and culture, these scholars are convinced that there is really a wide gender gap when it comes to education. It is on
this premise that this study sets for itself the task of taking an in-depth look at the public perception of girl child education among rural dwellers with a view to examining its implication for social work practice in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State. 

1.3 Research questions


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