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In Northern Nigeria, a Little Cash Goes a Long Way Towards Getting Girls to School
WURNO, Nigeria, 24 October 2014 – Since their father died a few years ago, Aisha and Asmau have had to contribute to their family’s income, hawking by the roadside.
The two girls live in a crude, single-room mud and tin hut with their younger brother, their mother and their grandmother.
Their home in north-western Nigeria’s Sokoto State has no electricity or running water, and barely any furniture. In one corner of the room is the sewing machine their mother uses to eke out a living as a seamstress.
At ages 12 and 13, Aisha and Asmau have never been to school. Their mother, Atika Adamu, says she couldn’t afford the cost. “It’s very difficult, because we spend all our time trying to get food. There was no money for school,” she says.
“But now they will go to school, inshallah,” she says, proudly pointing to her girls, who are sitting in the dusty yard outside their home, chopping onions and sifting millet.
Ms. Adamu has just received a first quarterly payment of 5,000 naira (US$31) for each girl, to help cover the costs of sending them to school.
The cash transfers, part of UNICEF’s Girls’ Education Programme, were launched on 22 September at a ceremony outside the school in Wusa, which Aisha and Asmau will be attending. The GEP is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
“Now that I have the money to send my girls to school, they will no longer be hawking,” Ms. Adamu says. “They will be learning.”
In all, 23,000 girls will benefit from cash assistance in the Sokoto and Niger states this year, and an additional 50,000 next year. The programme is also expected to expand to other states.
“This intervention is part of what the Nigeria at the state and federal levels is trying to do in terms of setting up a full social protection system, so that people can lead a life of dignity and opportunity,” says Enrique Delamonica, who heads UNICEF Nigeria’s Social Policy and Gender Equality unit.
Evidence shows that, on average, an educated girl will grow up to have healthier children and contribute more to her family’s income.
“This kind of programme is among the most effective in promoting pro-poor, inclusive development,” says Michael Samson, Director of Research at the South Africa–based Economic Policy Research Institute, which is collaborating with UNICEF on the project.
“There is substantial evidence from around the world that investing in girls’ education has the highest economic rate of return of any kind of intervention a government can implement,” he adds.
Ms. Adamu needs no convincing. “With education, my daughters will not be a liability to their husbands. They will be earning money, and they will not be relegated to the background,” she says.
Her daughters are shy and keep their eyes downcast as they talk, in very few words, of their hopes for the future. Aisha wants to become a teacher, her sister a nurse.
Seeing the difference
There is still some reluctance to send girls to school in northern Nigeria, but Ms. Adamu says that is not the case in her community. “People have seen the benefits of educating girls. Even the men can see the difference it makes when a girl gets an education.”
Yusuf Umar, who ekes out a living trading as a petty trader, agrees. “The idea that girls should not go to school belongs to the past. “
His three daughters of school age used to attend school, but he says he recently fell on hard times and could no longer afford the books, uniforms and other costs.
Things got even worse when floods – frequent in this area – recently washed away half his house, but Mr. Umar is upbeat.
He shows the card stating his wife received a cash transfer for the three girls, and proclaims, with a big smile: “I am now the happiest man in the world.”