Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Overcoming Obstacles to Educational Access for Kenyan Girls: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Overcoming Obstacles to Educational Access for Kenyan Girls: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

Background to the Study: My Story

Despite multiple policy initiatives, and notwithstanding repeated promises of "education for all," significant inequalities in educational attainment persist across Kenya's citizens (Kramon, E. et al. 2012). Growing up in Kenya as a girl has given me many reasons to pursue research on the girl child and education. Kenya is made up of 42 tribes, with significant cultural variation including family organization and language. There is significant variation with respect to world view and self-perceptions among girls, impacted by family and cultural variables. For example, I grew up in a village and where we used to go to church, and there was always a row for men where women could not sit and vice versa. As I grew up, I would never sit in the so called "men's row". These kinds of divisions greatly influenced the perspectives of many of us about life in these different communities in Kenya, and while I give this example as just a minor one, we have additional cultural taboos that separate the two genders in terms of roles, education and power. My perception about life has been influenced positively by how I was brought up and the community around me since I was little. After coming out of my village and having a taste of the city, and meeting different people from many tribes I became aware of the many differences. We all did things differently, and this is when I realized how important it is to sometimes just get out of your comfort zone and see what life looks like from other perspectives. I went to the University of Nairobi, and during my four years of study, I had a great opportunity to meet different people with both positive and negative life experiences. but I learnt a lot from all these. I had friends from the Maasai and Samburu communities and their life experiences really inspired me. They were at the University against their parents' wishes. Their parents never felt the importance of them going to school; rather, they wanted them to get married and, at the time the young women decided to pursue their educations, they had already found a man for them. My curiosity about these cultures is also what shaped my interest in carrying out this study.

Since education is a key factor in determining development trends, national governments have embraced the idea of equal education for all as a matter of priority. Even as nations continue to grapple with the need to provide equal education for all, it is important to understand that their struggles are located within broader historical and cultural contexts that explain discrepancies in the development of women's education relative to men's. Of great relevance is the development of education from traditional contexts, through the era of missionaries in the colonial period, to the post-colonial period whereby the construction of gender, gender identities and relations based on patriarchal ideologies, has resulted in fewer women and girls benefiting from education (Sifuna 2014). Kenya being a patriarchal country, there are various places where only the men can decide what is right for members of their particular families. This is one of the stories from one of my participants that could relate to this claim. She explains to me why she dropped out of school:

   I dropped out of school when I was an eighth grader for two reasons
   that I can say have affected my decisions today--it was not out of
   my will but unwillingly because my father wanted me to get married
   to a certain man in my village whose father joked about giving my
   father herds of cattle if only he let his son marry me. A joke as
   it sounded turned my whole life miserable, first dropping out of
   school and secondly getting married off to someone I didn't even
   like, well that happens with organized marriages, most of the times
   it's always what you don't like. In my community, the number of
   livestock determines how wealthy you are and for that reason you
   gain a higher status in the community, so my dad couldn't let this
   slip out of his hands. … 
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