The WISER NGO is based in Muhuru Bay, Kenya, a small fishing village in the Nyanza province on the shore of Lake Victoria near the border of Tanzania. Nyanza province has the highest HIV and malaria infection rates in the country, as well as the highest infant mortality and some of the greatest poverty. Due to political isolation, Nyanza has not participated in the economic development that has occurred in other regions of Kenya. As is common around the world, girls suffer the most in impoverished communities such as Muhuru Bay.
The Nyanza province has some of the lowest rates for girls completing secondary school (see Human Rights Watch). The statistics of HIV rates and girls’ education are likely to be linked, as girls are usually the first to be removed from school when a family member becomes ill with AIDS or dies. Girls that are removed from school and that lack education are more likely to become infected with HIV, as sexual involvement with an older man is often the only way to support themselves and their families.
In the Lake Victoria region, it is also common for women and girls to have sex with fishermen in order to obtain food, or to have fish to sell for money for medicine or school fees. This gender specific spiral of educational deprivation and disease burden has led to the strong gender disparity in HIV infection rates in Kenya, with women dramatically overrepresented (see www.unaids.org). The ripple effects of having sick, poor, uneducated women can be enormous.
Girls often don’t complete primary school due to lack of support, forced marriages, and early pregnancies. Those that do continue their education are negatively impacted by low community expectations. Even those girls who complete secondary school with the financial support of their families do so at academic levels vastly inferior to their male peers.
WISER recognizes that girls are currently the most underutilized resource in the region. Investing in girls’ education in Muhuru Bay will ultimately increase the quality of life for both men and women in the region.