The introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997 as a presidential pledge deprived the programme of gender mainstreaming opportunity.
UPE remains a global initiative hatched by the UN stipulated in Millennium Development Goal objective 2; to improve access to equitable education for children in struggling regions of the world.
Today, there are concerns about the quality of UPE. However, what should concern us the most is the obvious impact of UPE on rural economies. The PLE results released in the last 10 years show a consistent pattern of unequal achievements between rural and urban areas.
Children studying in well-resourced urban settings have consistently outperformed their counterparts in resource scarce rural settings. A recent report by Justice and Peace Centre shows that the story in northern Uganda is damning. In five years, more than 66 per cent of the schools in northern Uganda failed to produce first grades.
This trend can explain the region’s exclusion from the glorified economic resurgence of this country.
In this article, I explore how a failing UPE affects the health of rural economies and more specific, how UPE has affected the health of rural women/mothers.
The typical African woman in rural setting is the modern day beast of burden. The woman is the centerpiece of the livelihood of rural communities and households. She is constantly overloaded.
On the head, she has firewood, water containers, or sacks. In her arms, she holds a baby, or a luggage. Either on the back or in the womb there is a baby. The rural African woman needs liberation from the bondage of burden.
And yet, no one seems to care enough about the precarious state of the rural African woman. Incidentally, you will discover that even husbands, parents, in-laws, or the managers of our social welfare do not care enough for gender mainstreaming in their policy processes.
Despite the fact that the rural woman is lowly educated, she is socially well schooled in her subordinate gender roles, primarily as a gatekeeper of a place where she does not exert a physical presence.
She is compelled to deliver many children out of inevitability. Naturally, she depends on assistance from her children – more so, the females. The birth of every girl-child is a potential relief of her burden.
A UN gender and water resource report shows that on the average, the rural African woman spends four hours a day in search of water and fuel for her family. When she has girls of her own, some of her “natural” burdens are delegated to the daughters.
The MDG report observed that more than 60 per cent of rural women in sub-Saharan Africa are employed in unpaid agricultural work. Their children always help in clearing the shamba, planting, weeding and harvesting.
In that sense, the rural African woman has the additional burden of producing labourers and caring for them as well.
It is here that UPE planners failed the rural woman. Knowing that 83 per cent of Ugandans reside in rural communities, and that agriculture employs more than 80 per cent of Ugandans, the calendar of UPE could not be any worse – at least for the rural woman. Children are part-and-parcel of these communities and have supportive roles in the gardens and homes.
By taking them away from these roles, their mothers must inherit these roles.
The school calendar needs adjusting to ensure school terms run during dry seasons when the need for labour is low. These children would still be in school, but help in the gardens during holidays. This would be a perfect time to apply the knowledge of agriculture in practice.
Mr Komakech is a social critic and political analyst.