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Gender and Education within East Africa and the Caribbean

Gender and Education within East Africa and the Caribbean

Centre for Commonwealth Education

This research focuses on why some girls from very poor backgrounds, or from families where education for girls is not valued, nevertheless stay in school.

In working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of universal primary education and gender equity, Kenyan and Ugandan governments have put in place a number of strategies to increase girls' enrolment and to address drop-out from school. Statistics show, however, that whilst there have been improvements, many girls attend school only irregularly, with large numbers still dropping out as they progress through primary and into secondary school.

Partnerships with colleagues in academic, government and NGO organisations in Kenya and Uganda have been crucial, both in guiding and informing the research programme and in enabling our approach to be culturally sensitive. Research has now been completed in four case-study areas in each country, with four schools chosen within each area. Since existing research shows links between poverty and lower levels of retention in school, districts with particular challenges and hardships that make it difficult for girls to attend school were chosen. Girls begin to drop out of school as they reach puberty, and so five girls thought by their teachers to be in school 'against the odds' were selected from Standard 5 (Kenya) and Class 6 (Uganda). Individual in-depth interviews were conducted with each girl, who has subsequently been re-interviewed twice more in the last two years. Focus group interviews were conducted with groups of boys and teachers, with individual interviews undertaken with head teachers and district education officers. In addition, twenty adult women who themselves completed education against the odds and who had progressed to successful careers, were interviewed in each country.

What keeps girls away from school?

Findings from this research show that girls drop out of school for a number of reasons, illustrated in the diagram below.

Factors for girls dropping out of school

Why do girls continue going to school?

Despite the multiple challenges facing children in these areas, however, we have been able to identify three main reasons for their retention.

Firstly is the girls' belief in the power of education to change their lives. Their persistence and determination to succeed in order to make a better life for themselves, and assist others in their families and communities, was almost universal. Often, in the face of indifference from their families, they themselves made the decision to attend school. For these girls, education not only provided some meaning to their present lives, but was the key to a different kind of future.

School entrance

Secondly, schools were important, not only through the formal education they offered, but also because they provided a relatively safe and attractive place where girls had opportunities to develop their talents, to be with friends, to play, to be a child. Both male and female teachers were often critical in encouraging and caring for girls at an individual level. Many showed awareness of the wider problems they faced, were willing to listen and even to give practical support. Despite a real lack of resources, several Head teachers went out of their way to make their schools places where children wanted to come, lobbying for additional funding, putting in place income-generating projects, developing extra-curricular activities to develop life skills and putting in place strategies to raise the status of girls.

Finally, besides teachers, other people, usually within the family or local community, but occasionally national or even internationally known figures, acted as role models. These influenced girls directly or indirectly, and in so doing helped them to manage and sometimes overcome some of the challenges they faced. They offered advice, encouragement, practical support or simply understanding. In some instances they acted as catalysts for change. More indirectly, girls often admired from afar adult women in their communities who had achieved a certain level of material goods or who were in positions of authority, and whom they wished to emulate.


  • Dr Alicia Fentiman, Dr Susan Kiragu and Mike Younger, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Alice Merab Kagoda, University of Makere, Uganda
  • Dr Dorothy Atuhura, Kyambogo University, Uganda
  • Professor Jane Rarieya, Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • Emmanuel Kamuli (UNICEF, Uganda)
  • Martha Muhwezi (Forum for African Women Educationalists)
  • Mercy Musomi (Girl Child Network)


  • Warrington, M. 2013 'Now I am grown I can stand the hunger': some reflections from primary school girls in poor areas of Kenya, JENda, forthcoming
  • Warrington, M., Kiragu, S., Fentiman, A. and Muhwezi, M. 2012 Factors influencing retention in Kenya and Uganda, in J. MacBeath and M. Younger (eds.), Millennium Development Goals Revisited: A Common Wealth of Learning, Routledge, forthcoming.
  • Kiragu, S. and Warrington, M. 2012 How we used moral imagination to address ethical and methodological complexities while conducting research with girls in school against the odds, Qualitative Research. Published 9 August 2012 (iFirst), doi:10.1177/1468794112451011
  • Warrington, M. 2012 Challenging the status quo: the enabling role of gender sensitive fathers, inspirational mothers and surrogate parents in Uganda, Educational Review,doi:10.1080/00131911.2012.689274
  • Warrington, M. and Kiragu, S. 2012 "It makes more sense to educate a boy": girls 'against the odds' in Kajiado, Kenya, International Journal of Educational Development, 32: 301-309.


This project is funded through the Centre for Commonwealth Education, by the Commonwealth Education Trust.