Can soccer help encourage reluctant parents to enroll their girls in school? The small city of Asesewa, Ghana is willing to try, using their renowned teams to encourage parents to invest all of their children - not just the boys.
In today's Guardian, Jessica Shepard writes about her recent visit to Ghana, which prompts the question, "What is a girl worth?" Apparently, not much - close to half of all girls do not advance beyond a junior high school education. Even if the girls are enrolled in school, they are often asked to miss classes in order to help support the family financially. Cruelly, the wages some girls while they are missing school are funneled to their brother's educations. Even when there is a direct tie between education and earning power, parents are still reluctant to allocate their already meager resources to the tuition and fees for girls.
Shepard explains the gender trap further:
Besides, the value of an educated girl is lower than that of an educated boy. "The feeling is that girls will marry and belong to another family; boys bring back what they make to their parents," Appiah says.
And, in these rural communities, girls are needed at home. From as young as seven they can be expected to prepare breakfast and lunch for their parents, take it to them in the fields and cook a hot dinner in the evenings. Many will also have to fetch water from several kilometres away and sell what they can to supplement their family's meagre income. That leaves little time for lessons. "Here, it is only when a girl has extra determination to make it in her education that she will," Appiah says.
As Ghana rises in global esteem, making advancements in democracy, educational reform, and economic growth, the country still lags in establishing gender equality. However, some innovative minds in more rural towns have developed an engaging solution - to combine the fight for girls education with the love of football (soccer), Ghana's national pastime:
Word about the girls' football club here in Asesewa has even reached the MPs in Accra, Ghana's capital. Football is a passion for Ghanaians of both sexes and the club only allows girls who are at school or on vocational courses to play. Clever girls, who have dropped out of school through lack of funds, are awarded scholarships, funded by Plan, to return to class and allowed to join one of the 25 teams.
The standard of football is high. The games are taken seriously and hundreds come to watch the matches. Players use the opportunity of an audience to promote girls' education from loudhailers. Others tour villages between matches to educate on the dangers of child neglect, the consequences of child labour and how to prevent teenage pregnancies.
And this campaign is working. By utilizing the attention of avid sports fans, advocates in Asesewa have been able to reach the heart and minds of the village elders, often termed "kings" and "queens" for their influence over local matters.
Sitting on a raised platform, with brightly patterned yellow fabric draped over one shoulder, Kwuke Ngua, one of the kings, tells how attitudes are changing. "We used to think women were not destined for education, but now we believe it does them well," he says. "They have more skills, which they can bring to the community. All girls should go to school." One of the queens, Mannye Narteki, goes even further: "Girls can no longer fit into working society unless they are educated," she says.
What Is A Girl Worth? [The Guardian]