On March 27 this year, Sao Tome and Principe took a big step to make its education system more equitable: following support and advocacy from GPE, the government overturned a Disciplinary Act prohibiting pregnant girls in the third month of pregnancy from attending classes or school activities.
The 2006 ministerial regulation mandated these girls to attend night school until the end of their pregnancy. The same sanction applied to male students involved in the pregnancies.
The removal of this act is an important step in the right direction, and for investing in girls and gender equality in the country.
Girls in Sao Tome face difficult odds
With a population of about 200,000, Sao Tome and Principe has a high adolescent fertility rate: 93 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 years (compared for example to 68 in South Africa or 61 in Sudan).
This means that 86% of adolescent girls are at risk of or are dropping out of school, which exacerbates existing poverty-driven inequalities in the country.
In the poorest districts of Lobata, Lembá, and Cantagalo for example, between 13% and 15% of adolescent girls are already married and have already given birth. There, 44% of women from the poorest households were married before turning 18, compared to only 16% of women from the wealthiest households (INE, 2012).
We know that the benefits of keeping girls in school and learning are many for the girls themselves, and also for their communities. Each additional year of schooling increases a woman’s earnings, which reduces poverty. Additionally, educating girls results in lower child and maternal mortality rates.
Despite these benefits, available evidence suggests that girls face numerous challenges in staying in school and continuing their studies. Adolescent mothers are more likely to die during childbirth and have children with lower birth weight that are more likely to be stunted due to lack of nutrition, and in turn, be at a disadvantage from the very early years of their life.
New GPE funding to support gender equality in Sao Tome
Now that the Disciplinary Act has been revoked, there is still more work to do to support the country in educating adolescent girls. The COVID-19 pandemic has reached the island, with 746 infections and 14 deaths due to the coronavirus as of July 20. Schools have been closed since March 20 and the country plans to reopen them on September 8.