When we look at the education system in South Africa, we often ask ourselves if we have bridged the gap and ensured that we have a fair and effective system that is beneficial and equal to all learners. Currently, SA has a three-tier education system of primary, secondary and further or higher education. The primary and secondary school sector is divided into; non-fee paying public schools, fee-paying public schools and private schools. Attendance at school compulsory for all children age 7-15.
Historically, young South African women have unfortunately not always reaped the fruit of our ‘equal’ education system and struggled to get a decent education. Poverty is, of course, the greatest hurdle for girls 17 and younger, as the more than 13 million children who live in poverty do not have consistent access to education.
There has always been a divide when it comes to education and careers and where women stand in South Africa. Climbing the corporate ladder has always been perceived as something that only men should do. For a country that came a very long way after apartheid, the question lingers: have we really bridged the gap and given young girls and women the same opportunities males have? The answer more often than not tends to lean to the negative.
The fact of the matter is that girls no longer have to live below average.There are a number of developments in South Africa that focus on girls’ education and women empowerment. For e.g. The ‘Techno Girl’ programme identifies 15- to 18-year-old school girls from disadvantaged communities and places them in corporate mentorship and job-shadowing programmes. The programme is a collaboration between the Department for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, the public and private sectors, and UNICEF. Since its inception in 2007, the programme has reached over 4,250 girls.
A 2010 survey of Techno Girl participants showed that after going through the programme, 94% had a better understanding of the working world and the skills required for the various careers to which they wish to pursue.
Unfortunately, teenage pregnancy is one of the obstacles faced by young girls, with reports of 1000 school girls falling pregnant in the Ekurhuleni Municipality. Included in this figure was a grade 5 learner, who was reportedly aged between 10 and 11 years!
A shocking 2.9% of South African girls regard education as useless, compared to 9.1% of young boys. This raises a red flag to the department and all other movements that have been instilled to ensure that girls are educated. We pride ourself on being a democratic country. Young girls should have equal opportunities and safe and secure conditions in their quest for a career and their livelihood. There is still a long road ahead of us, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. And to all young girls and women out there facing hurdles every single day, live by Al Anon’s wisdom: “If you don’t like being a doormat then get off the floor!”