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Koketso-MoetiKoketso Moeti

By Koketso Moeti, South Africa Correspondent for Safe World. May 2012.

Education is Key to Breaking Cycle of Poverty

Apart from inequality, the greatest challenge facing South Africa is poverty.

In 2003, there was a consensus that 40% of South Africans were living in poverty – with the poorest 15% in a desperate struggle to survive.

The consequences of poverty affect women and female children differently from their male counterparts. Their needs are often relinquished in the quest for survival, which in turn limits their chances of lifting themselves out of poverty even more.

“South Africa has very high rates of child poverty. In 2010, three quarters of children lived below the upper poverty line (R1060 per person per month), 60% were below the lower poverty line (R575 per month) and 35% were below the ultra-poverty line of R290 per month”

Education is widely accepted as a means of empowerment, economic growth, and general improvements in welfare, meaning it is essential in breaking the cycle of poverty. In July 2010, it was found that there are equal proportions of male and female children living in South Africa, and girls – by and large – do not experience discrimination when measured by access to school.

In 2008, South Africa had a combined GPI of 1.01 for primary and secondary schools. This indicates that similar proportions of girls and boys are enrolled in the education system. This also suggests that in South Africa, there is no undue discrimination between boys and girls, with regards to access to schooling. 

There is, however, a significant change in gender parity at the high school level, particularly at Grade 10 with more boys dropping out than females. Yet, when it comes to the school-leaving level, Grade 12, it is found that in poorer areas, fewer girls actually complete their education, and this is often attributed to teenage pregnancy.

But beyond that, when speaking to girls who had attended school, it seems that the ugly head of poverty once again affects girls' ability to complete school.

Hygiene and sanitation costs are unaddressed

For girls, it is found that over and above books, uniform, and all other costs associated with school, hygiene, and sanitation costs are also involved.

This is a problem that goes unaddressed in almost all learner retention plans developed in South Africa. The problem is then further fuelled by the inadequate access to water experienced in poorer communities, which consequently affects girls' ability to adequately address their hygienic needs.

Being unable to access material required for female hygiene and sanitation purposes have consequences. 

Maturing girls have to skip school when it is ‘that time of the month’. Over time, this causes them to drop-out completely, which in turn decreases their chance of ever lifting themselves out of poverty.

Longlasting psychological and emotional impact

They are not confident enough to participate fully in activities, and in some extreme situations, even have to face the humiliation of being teased or shunned for smelling bad. A result of wearing the same sanitary towel for days on end.

These consequences go beyond tangible consequences, as the girl is also psychologically and emotionally affected by the experience. The effects could last beyond childhood.

Moving beyond access to education

Addressing this problem requires a plan that takes a holistic approach. ‘Access to education’ in itself is not enough. A learner’s retention plan needs to be developed, factoring in the socio-economic circumstances of the communities, and being serviced by schools.

This plan should also seek to address the barriers faced in accessing education.

Until this is done, girls will continue to be enrolled in schools, attend regularly, and have good grades –  only to find themselves still unable to escape the cycle of poverty through education.



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