Editors: Following is another in a series of articles to mark International Womens Day, Wednesday March 8
HARARE, Mar 7 (IPS) - At 9.pm every night in one of the main boarding schools in Zimbabwe the lights go out in the girls dormitories - a stern message that they should abandon their studies and retire to bed.
At the other end of the school, where the boys are quartered, the lights stay on and they can study as long as they like.
''This enhances their prospects for entrance into university,'' says Everjoyce Win, a projects officer with Women in Law and Development in Africa (Wildaf). ''If any of the girls want to study they have to use a candle under their blankets.
''This is just one aspect of schooling which has a negative impact on women and no matter how intelligent you are, it ends up affecting you.''
In an attempt to redress the imbalance brought by the socialisation process, the University of Zimbabwe has embarked on an affirmative action programme aimed at doubling the number of female students entering the institution by 1997.
This year, the cut-off point for female students in each department will be two points below that required of males.
''The university has come in when the damage has already been done. But the mechanism is intended to increase the number of female students to about 40 percent,'' says Prof. Gordon Chavunduka, the university's vice-chancellor.
In 1980, only 20 percent of total university entrants were female. By 1994, this had risen to 26 percent of the 2,000 first- year students, he said.
Lawyer Rudo Kwaramba definitely believed girls had a problem within the Zimbabwe education system.
''It is not that they not achievers, but the environment is not conducive for girls as they are victims of socialisation,'' said Kwaramba, who works with a womens legal aid and support group.
''Girls are expected to perform household chores alongside their schooling. Most girls just want to get married -- these are some of the socio-cultural dictates.''
Kwaramba argues that the lowering of points will give women equal opportunities with men on the employment field. ''People have a problem of misconstruing equality with equal opportunity.''
According to the 1993 World Education Report released by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 905 million people - almost one-quarter of the world's adult population - are illiterate. About 587 million of them, or 65 percent, are women.
In Africa, less than one primary or secondary student in three, and less than one tertiary student in five, is female.
Education is one of 10 critical areas of concern identified by the United Nations for discussion at the fourth World Conference on Women to be held in Beijing in September.
In Zimbabwe, social activists are now lobbying for positive discrimination at primary and secondary school levels, where they say, scholarships or bursaries can be awarded to students whose families cannot raise fees.
Enrollment figures for girls and boys are about equal at grade one level. But according to the progress of nations report produced by the U.N. Children's Fund (Unicef), only 93 percent of girls in Zimbabwe complete grade five.
Marvellous Mhloyi, vehemently opposed to the lowering of points for females, suggests: ''It should be a government policy to have free education for girls up to form six or if that's not possible, to subsidise education from the lower levels.
''But this lowering of points is, I feel, an acceptance that girls are inferior,'' says Mhloyi, a lecturer and social scientist with the University of Zimbabwe.
''Will we then mark (examination) papers on a different scale. If that is the case, how will employers view such women? Will they expect their monies worth? i don't think women are inferior to men.''
But, argues Prof. Chavunduka, anyone with two points is capable of getting a degree.
''The point structure is merely a mechanism for selecting students so there is no relationship between performance and points,'' he adds.