Overcoming barriers to refugee girls' education in Kenya

Lessons from Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps

“Akiru is 12 years old and has been spotted by a man who wants to marry her. The family of the man have approached her parents with an offer. The groom’s family would like Akiru to move in with them until they feel she is ready to move in together with him. Akiru’s parents are very poor and have been struggling to provide for the family. The dowry they receive for her marriage would help them to support the rest of the family. In your opinion, should her parents accept this offer of marriage? Yes/No? Why?”

A presenter on Radio Ata Nayeche poses this question to her listeners, inhabitants of Kakuma refugee camp in Northern Kenya and the host community of Lokichogio. She invites them to respond by sending an SMS to a free shortcode. As the responses pour in, the presenter reads them out loud.

Many voices support early marriage over the education of the girl, citing financial benefit, religious and cultural values and moral safeguarding.

Yes she should get married so that her family can escape poverty. Female, 40 year old, Lokichogio

“Causes of early marriages are based on African cultural beliefs. What is the justification for making the age of consent 18? These are arbitrary western views being imposed upon us.” Unknown

"We marry young girls to avoid prostitution.” Male, 25 year old, Lokichogio

However, many more voices support education over marriage. Such voices emphasise the girl’s age and rights, assert that education is a better long-term investment, and embrace progress over anachronistic cultural values.

“Should not accept to get married because she is still too young and needs to study so that she can help her parents in the future.” Male, 24 years old, Kakuma

“She's too young to get married and that's violating her rights as a child.” Female, 19 year old, Lokichogio

“Our culture is static. We should help embrace education.” Male, 20 years old, Lokichogio

Later on in the camp, people are talking about the radio shows and debating the different views expressed by the community.

In 2018, World University Service Canada (WUSC) asked Africa’s Voices to pilot our interactive radio approach in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps to unravel and help tackle the stubborn social norms that stand as barriers to girls’ education.      

Located in Northern Kenya, Dadaab and Kakuma are two of the world’s largest refugee settlements. The Kenya Equity in Education (KEEP) II project implemented by a consortium led by WUSC in both locations, identified attitudinal barriers and behavioural norms that commonly keep girls out of school, including an unfair domestic chore burden, and expectations of early marriage.

AVF’s KEEP II pilot was conducted in two phases in Dadaab and Kakuma. We tested our interactive radio approach (combining radio shows with SMS feedback) as a vehicle for inclusive, norm-challenging conversations that can expose contextually specific barriers to girls’ education; identify barriers that are negotiable; and find influencers in the community who can champion girls remaining in school.

The pilot proved the potential of using media changes to understand nuances, shift norms and provide recommendations for adaptive programming.

At the end of the pilot period, WUSC asked AVF to plan a three-year scaled-up project in both Dadaab and Kakuma. Starting in 2019, this extended project will aim to grow the citizen engagement-to-evidence model to support media-driven social and behaviour change and to deliver insights to KEEP II partners for adaptive programming.

"AVF's pilot report was extremely interesting and generated a lot of discussion and ideas in our team. It provoked lots of questions and ideas for how to incorporate the pilot insights and findings into our wider work, as well as thinking about how to best scale it".

Lucy Philpott,  Education Advisor, WUSC

 Social norms and barriers to girls’ education:

Using interactive radio for timely, actionable and scalable insights

AVF’s KEEP II pilot started in Kakuma refugee camp and the host community of Lokichogio. Six interactive radio shows were broadcast in two local radio stations, Ata Nayeche and Bibilia Husema.

 In the second phase, the interactive radio shows expanded to Dadaab through Radio Gagaar. At the same time, listening groups were deployed in Kakuma to address low listenership among the refugee community – the two local radio stations chosen broadcast in Swahili and Turkana, the host community’s languages.

In order to elicit collective beliefs during the radio shows, AVF employed the use of vignettes in the radio questions, covering a range of barriers to girls’ education identified by KEEP.

In Kakuma, AVF complemented the interactive radio shows with listening groups. This helped non-Swahili speakers to discuss the topics with a facilitator’s guidance, which helped connect a more diverse base of listeners with the shows.

In Kakuma, AVF complemented the interactive radio shows with listening groups. This helped non-Swahili speakers to discuss the topics with a facilitator’s guidance, which helped connect a more diverse base of listeners with the shows.

Listening group participants in Lokichogio.

Listening group participants in Lokichogio.

Early marriage

Radio show 1

““Akiru is 12 years old and has been spotted by a man who wants to marry her. The family of the man have approached her parents with an offer. The groom’s family would like Akiru to move in with them until they feel she is ready to move in together with him. Akiru’s parents are very poor and have been struggling to provide for the family. The dowry they receive for her marriage would help them to support the rest of the family. In your opinion, should her parents accept this offer of marriage? Yes/No? Why?”

"No, and I advise my people to get rid of this retrogressive culture and allow girls to get educated so we can progress."

Male, Ifo

Photo: Ty McCormick - Foreign Policy

Photo: Ty McCormick - Foreign Policy

"They should not accept the marriage offer and educate their daughter because an educated girl is like the whole society is educated."

Female, Dagahley

Domestic chores

Radio show 2

"[MARY/AROP] is the first-born child in a family of 6 children and the family lives in [Lokichogio/Kakuma]. They have animals in the homestead and they also live with her ailing grandparents. She had been going to school but the chores in the home are increasingly difficult for her mother to handle . In your opinion, should she continue going to school [yes], or should she stay at home to support her mother in taking care of the homestead, the younger children as well as her grandparents [no]? Why?"

“I don’t support (staying in school] since many young ladies waste their time on the telephone rather than concentrating on their studies”

Female, 40, Lockichogio

“Yes, she should continue with the studies but when she come back from school in the evening she can now help the parent to do some remaining work.”

Male, 22 years old, Kakuma

Economic value of educating girls

Radio show 3

Photo: UNHCR/B.Rono

Photo: UNHCR/B.Rono

"[EBEI/JOHN] is a father of 5 children and he lives in [Lokichogio/Kakuma] with his family. His first three children are boys and they are currently in school. The two youngest are girls and they are not yet in school but are almost reaching the age of going to school. Ebei has been thinking about whether or not to enrol his daughters in school, especially because he is already under a heavy financial strain to keep the 3 boys in school. He is wondering whether there will be any value in educating the girls especially because, they will eventually get married anyway and leave the family. Do you think there is any value in educating his girls? Yes/no? Why?"

Value of Education

Radio show 4

Kakuma refugee camp
"[GIRL ] Many people alleged that after educating girls they leave and get married, that girls don’t help their parents after educating them and that, after educating girls, they help their husbands only thus no value in educating them."

Lokigochio
"[AKAI ] A family that lives in Lokichogio have four children, three boys and one girl called Akai. Akai is the youngest and has now reached the age of  starting school. All her older brothers are already in school. Her parents are unsure whether to send her to school because they want her to have an education, but they are worried about the negative influence of her peers and the environment in school."

"In your opinion, do you think there is any value in educating girls? Yes/No? Why?"

Turning voices into insights

Dadaab and Kakuma

389
unique participants in Kakuma
393
unique participants in Dadaab

1
There is a mismatch between normative expectations and perceived practice. Both in Dadaab and Kakuma, a majority disapprove of a girl not receiving education and believe others would too, but most perceive the practice to be relatively common.

2
There are important differences between Kakuma and Dadaab in the collective beliefs supporting early marriage. Financial constraints are an important driver behind the practice in Kakuma, whereas religious and cultural values are more prominent in Dadaab.

3
Religious and cultural values supporting early marriage are an important barrier but coexist with cultural values that deem these practices anachronistic.

4
Both in Kakuma and Dadaab, women and youth are more likely to disapprove of early marriage.

5
The legal and rights-based approach to girls’ education emerges as another strong normative belief.

Recommendations for adaptive programming

How AVF's findings can help KEEP consortium partners to adapt their work in Dadaab and Kakuma

1
Listening groups provide a valuable space for discussion not only to drive media engagement but also as a way to inform and sustain social and behaviour change activities.

2
Barriers to girls’ education related to tradition, culture and religion can be challenged by emphasising community narratives that see girls’ schooling as a way forward for a society and which deem early marriage as a thing of the past.

3
The views of women and youth, whom in their majority support schooling over early marriage, should be reinforced and they should be championed as role models.

4
Financial gain becomes acceptable in a context of need: it can be challenged normatively, by emphasising community narratives on the longer term investment of education, the legal/rights arguments, and harnessing existing social norms, which generally favour girls’ education; or through more pragmatic financial incentivisation (e.g. cash transfers).

What's next

In 2019, AVF will commence a three-year scaled-up project in both locations to harness the pilot's momentum on supporting media-driven social and behaviour change and to deliver insights to KEEP II partners for adaptive programming.

The pilot report is available here.

For more information or queries, contact info@africasvoices.org

Photo: Edwina Pickles / Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Photo: Edwina Pickles / Fairfax Media via Getty Images