Prudence and her friend Faith are among 182 refugee girls whose education is currently supported by Xavier Project. Both girls were displaced by the civil wars in their home countries and were forced to flee to Kenya when they were both very young. But even before the pandemic started, their life outlook was less favourable than their brothers. They describe how in their respective cultures — Dinka and Congolese — girls are considered to be less important than boys socially, and that their schooling is generally treated with cynicism as their communities suspect that education may “expose them to more knowledge and give them fear of getting pregnant”, two traits that are considered deeply undesirable in their traditional cultures.
“Many girls are married off immediately when we start experiencing our first menstrual cycle.”
Prudence says that, before the pandemic, she already saw a situation in which a young girl from the South Sudanese refugee community was forcefully repatriated by her family after she had been made pregnant by a close elderly relative. Prudence asserts, that in her community, such practices are normal. “Many girls are married off immediately when we start experiencing our first menstrual cycle.” Refugee girls also face many other barriers to their life ambitions. Studies show that, in Kenya, girls achieve close to 100 per cent secondary school enrollment – a rate that is actually higher than that of boys. But adolescent girls have limited time for education due to the gendered nature of household chores and care-giving duties, resulting in weaker performance in school than boys’ and in many cases, higher dropout rates.
“Were it not for Xavier Project, I would very likely have been married off already”