Historically, if a family couldn’t afford to send all of their children to school, they sent only their boys. Girls stayed home — cooking, cleaning and caring for other children. Benin is working hard to educate more girls and has been recognized internationally for its progress. According to Save the Children’s The Power and Promise of Girls’ Education from 2005, “The small West African nation of Benin is among the world’s poorest countries, yet it allocates almost one third of its central government budget to education – a higher percentage than any other African country.” Though elementary school is free, middle and high school is not. School fees, typically about $20 – 40 per year, have been waived by Benin’s federal government for girls in grades 6 – 9 and an additional year of free schooling is added each year. Thus, next year grade 10 will also be free for all girls in Benin.
However, the number of girls dwindles with each year in school, with only a small number of girls graduating high school each year. For example, the main high school in our town had 267 boys (54%) and 228 girls (46%) enrolled in 6th grade last year. The numbers for the students in 12th grade were much more lopsided: 302 boys (79%) to 82 girls (21%). This high school has more girls in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades than the average school because proximity to Benin’s capital, Porto Novo, equates to acceptance of progressive ideas not found in more rural areas. Teachers from northern Benin told me of schools with one or two girls persisting until 12th grade. (Note: The photo above was taken in Ghana, thus the sign is in English. Ghana and other neighboring West African countries have similar initiatives related to educating girls.)