Education is one of the primary drivers of development and is a vital tool for reducing poverty, sustaining peace and promoting gender equality. 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, 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.
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 6 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.
Key lessons learned from projects:
- Train members of the community to provide mentorship and life skills to young girls, and advocate for girls’ education.
- Support programmes to alleviate the financial constraints that limit girls’ ability to complete education.
- Education initiatives should not only target young women and girls, but also adult women.
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 achieve academic success. Girls are more likely to succeed in their academic endeavours if they have support structures available to them. 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 by 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.
Another illustration of the success of mentoring young women in education would be The Young Enterprises project which helped to develop the infrastructure and facilities for young girls studying at vocational training schools in the city of Blantyre, Malawi. Two matrons were employed to run and oversee the day-to-day operations at the two girls’ hostels that were constructed during the project. The matrons provided support to the girls support to the girls and helped to ensure that the girls completed their vocational training successfully.
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.