Uganda: The impact of cultural attitudes on girls' education.

Girls are often denied the same educational opportunities as boys due to cultural attitudes and poverty. Although these factors vary from country to country, there are trends that highlight the lack of opportunities for girls worldwide. This area has become a priority for many global organizations, including the World Bank who state that ‘Girls’ education and the promotion of gender equality in education are vital to development, and policies and actions that do not address gender disparities miss critical development opportunities.’1


A major reason for girls’ reduced educational opportunities is a result of how the role of women and girls in daily life is perceived by their communities and themselves. Three quarters of girls in poor countries marry before their 18th birthday. Uganda’s fertility rate is 6.7, reaching over 7.5 in some rural areas.2 With the major role of women often being linked to childbearing and unpaid domestic duties, their education becomes a lower priority than that of boys. Without an education, girls miss out on fulfilling their social and economic potential.

Cultural attitudes surrounding marriage and childbearing are particularly relevant to Uganda, where the population has grown from 7 million to over 30 million in 45 years. At its current rate, the projected population in 2050 is 103 million.3 The cultural practice of sharing farmland equally between children and the increased pressure on an already saturated job market, mean that a continued population explosion is likely to push widespread poverty to new levels of extremes. As girls’ education continues to be valued less than boys, this is likely to reduce their access to education even further. Interestingly, countries with a very young age structure such as Uganda, tend to have a Gender Equity Index score 27 percent lower, on average, than those with a mature age structure, which reflects the impact of gender inequality on fertility rate.2


Educating girls is essential to reducing the fertility rate and therefore poverty in Uganda. This is because educated girls and young women are less likely to become pregnant at a young age, are more likely to use modern contraception and to have fewer, healthier children. In Uganda, women with secondary education also marry three to four years later than women with no education, meaning the number of early pregnancies, and pregnancies in total, can be reduced.2

According to the World Bank, in order to achieve gender equality by 2015, more attention will need to be focused on the provision of secondary and tertiary education levels, the quality, and the relevance of education at all levels.2 Teach A Man To Fish are trying to increase access to, and the relevancy of, secondary education in rural Uganda through a self sufficient school model. Through a series of income generating projects, schools can reduce their fees substantially and become more accessible to the poorest students, including girls who were previously excluded. The businesses are run by the students themselves, which gives them practical business experience in relevant areas such as agriculture, animal husbandry and retail, and skills they can use to make a living as soon as they finish school. Since women are more likely to be in low paid employment and earn between 30% and 60% of men’s earnings for comparative jobs, entrepreneurship and business education can give girls the skills and confidence to exercise their rights as innovative economic actors and support their families. ‘Girls’ education yields some of the highest returns of all development investments, including private and social benefits that accrue to individuals, families, and society at large.’ (World Bank)1.

Plan UK is a global NGO working to increase access to education for girls in many poor countries. To find out more about the campaign visit www.plan-uk.org/becauseiamagirl

  1. Worldbank.org link
  2. Daumerie and Madson, 2010. The effects if a very young age structure in Uganda: The shape of things to come Series. Population Action International, Washington.
  3. Wikipedia and www.un.org

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