Promotion of Women and girls Education
Education is one of the primary drivers of development and is a vital tool for promoting gender equality, reducing poverty, and sustaining peace. Uneducated women are less likely to find employment and are thus unable to accumulate the requisite capital, both financial and social, to be financially independent. When girl-children are provided with the opportunity to receive an education, they are more likely to improve their own lives and those of their families, helping to break the cycle of poverty. Barriers to female education include the cost of education, patriarchal gender norms, lack of adequate infrastructure, poverty, early marriage and pregnancy. Furthermore, there is a need to change gender norms because often females’ contributions to their households are valued over their personal education.
The extent of this perception and lack of prioritisation on females’ education is embodied in the effect that menstruation has on school attendance for girl-children. UNESCO reports that one in ten girl-children in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle, with many of them dropping out of school entirely once they begin menstruating. These effects are jointly associated with the high costs of feminine hygiene products, as well as the relatively low importance placed on the needs of women and girl-children. In simplified terms: within a household, a woman’s education is an acceptable sacrifice when faced with higher costs or alternative needs.
Promoting female educational outcomes are a convergent priority for both the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 9 million girls between the ages of nine and 11 will never receive any formal education, compared to 6 million boys. The gender gap in education starts early, 23% of girls do not finish primary school compared to only 19% for boys. The Centre for Global Development finds that providing one extra year of education to girls increases their wages by 10-20%. This increase is 5% more than the corresponding returns to education for males. The differences in educational attainment between men and women help to illustrate the underlying gender bias, both formal and informal, that exists within African countries.
Thus, the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment prioritised educational initiatives for women and girls, including the provision of formal education and life skills training; literacy, numeracy, reading and writing programmes; training in modern agricultural techniques; business and vocational skills training; campaigns for improvements in the enrolment, attendance and retention rates of girls in school; marketing training and gender rights training to help women increase and understand their social and economic rights. The disbursement provided by the NEPAD Spanish Fund contributed to developing a culture that promotes the value of female education.
Success Stories and Case Studies
The following two NSF-funded projects outline the success that was achieved in promoting women and girls education.
Phase 1 of the IAG (Inter-Africa Group) project was implemented in January 2013 to enhance the gender-related capacity of federal and regional parliaments in Ethiopia, to address gender equality, to help mainstream gender in the laws and policies of Ethiopia, and to assist parliamentarians to exercise their oversight and legislative functions to ensure greater political, social, and economic empowerment of women. The project provided short-term training to enhance gender research and policy analysis capacity facilitated lectures on critical gender issues in Ethiopia and provided research support to the respective Standing Committees by recruiting graduate students with relevant gender expertise as interns. Regulatory and other difficulties resulted in this project being prematurely discontinued in December 2013.
The project was subsequently reformulated and rescoped. Phase 2 of the project provided formal education and skills training for 1100, young, out-of-school girls aged 12-18 from marginalised communities in the Tigray, Harari and Somali Regional States of Ethiopia and encouraged them to re-enroll in neighbourhood schools and provided them with mentorship and basic needs support. A girls’ only, after-school study programme was instituted to assist the girls in achieving their academic goals. Furthermore, the young girls underwent an intensive five-day life skills training course led by a professional trainer. To ensure the project’s long-term success, a mentorship programme was established to provide on-going support and guidance to the girls. Life skills training was provided to develop the personal and social awareness of the beneficiaries and to increase their level of social and economic participation.
The course empowered the beneficiaries by covering topics including psycho-social life skills, safety and well-being, financial literacy and reproductive health training. The course expanded the social awareness and self-confidence of the beneficiaries and improved their prospects regarding future social and economic participation.
The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Synod of Livingstonia in Malawi contributed towards the achievement of gender equality in education by facilitating increased access, enrolment, attendance and retention rates of girls in school. The organisation specifically aimed to enhance the knowledge of the Tukombo, Kachere and Bandawe communities on crosscutting issues such as gender equality, child rights and HIV/AIDS.
The project achieved its objectives by holding consultative meetings with the district assembly, conducting a Training of Trainers (ToT) programme in gender rights and HIV/AIDS and by developing 10 School Improvement Plans (SIPs) to improve the educational outcomes of young women and girls within the project area. The programme found that, in order to achieve gender equality in education, mechanisms to increase the access, enrolment and attendance rates of girls in school needed to be developed.
Curators of the projects stated that, in order to accomplish these tasks, it is important to conduct studies on the reasons for school absence in particular communities, as well as the marginal costs associated with removing these attendance barriers. In many communities, for instance, increases in female school attendance can be accomplished simply by providing menstrual hygiene products. However, this solution may not be the most effective in all relevant communities and differentiation between circumstances is vital to successful interventions.
Train members of the community to provide mentorship and life skills to young girls, and advocate for girls’ education
Mentoring is a proven strategy for helping youth to achieve academic success. Girls are more likely to succeed in their academic endeavours if they have support structures available to them within the community. The Inter Africa Group (IAG), provided education and skills training to 1,100, young, out-of-school girls aged 12-18 from Ethiopia. IAG found that the establishment of a girls’ only after-school study programme assisted the girls in achieving their academic goals. To further ensure the project’s success, a mentorship programme was established to provide on-going support and guidance to the girls.
The LIVE-Addis project focused on the economic and social empowerment of 431 vulnerable, young women between the ages of 17-28 living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The project coordinators found that including parents of the students in the project improved the commitment of the trainees and ensured an unbiased monitoring of the quality of training delivered to the young women. Furthermore, these initiatives encouraged parents and the broader community to adopt a positive attitude towards the education of young women.
These examples illustrate the potential benefits that can be achieved through the mentoring and guidance of young women in education. As has been shown, improving the retention and performance of young women in school enhances their contribution to their communities and increases the likelihood for future economic empowerment.
Support programmes to alleviate the financial constraints that limit girls’ ability to complete education
A consistent feedback from the closing projects reports was that families’ financial limitations constrain girls from completing their education. Solutions to this issue are not easily implemented, however methodologies to overcome this include making provision for transportation costs, national and regional policy changes aimed at female education and the provision of subsidies for girls’ education and aid aimed at the supply of girls’ school-related materials, clothing and food.
The Good Samaritan Training Centre in Ethiopia (GTSC) provided vocational training to disadvantaged young women from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The project coordinators recommended that in order to stabilise and increase the project’s attendance rate, they need to provide the women with either access to or money for transportation, as many of the beneficiaries could not attend the training because of the associated transportation costs. Similarly, another project which encountered transportation costs as a barrier to women gaining education was the Jewels of Faith Academy (JOFA). The solution achieved in this project was to provide financing to the women to subsidise their transportation costs to JOFA learning centres.
Financial constraints were a significant factor in The Employment and Vocational Training Institute (IEFP) project, which provided skills training and business support to young, unemployed women from Cabo Verde. The organisation found that due to inadequate socio-economic conditions, some beneficiaries could not adequately participate in capacity building workshops. For future projects/initiatives, the project suggested that funds should be earmarked for the payment of daily and other related expenses incurred by the beneficiaries to maximise attendance and educational attainment of the women.
The afore-mentioned interventions to further the outcomes of women in education are not exhaustive. It is, however, critical to address the financial strain that education can impose on African families and develop comprehensive strategies for its improvement.
Education initiatives should not only target young women and girls, but also adult women
The low level of female educational attainment in Africa is partly a result of the preference of many families to prioritise male over female education. Contributing factors include economic and cultural barriers which prevent girls and women from accessing education and a lack of political support to implement and sustain existing adult education programmes.
The JOFA (Jewels of Faith Academy) provided extensive literacy skills training to young women from the Kpaduma community in Abuja, Nigeria. At the conclusion of the project they recommended that, in future, literacy programmes should be extended to empower parents, especially adult women. This is in recognition of the fact that adult women, because of their familial responsibilities, are more receptive to receiving training that will help combat poverty and improve familial living standards.