A new brief from Save the Children and The Regional Coordination Group on SDG4-Education 2030 in West and Central Africa reveals that 28 million girls in West and Central Africa have no access to education. These numbers show that, despite more girls accessing education now than ever before worldwide, in West and Central Africa more needs to be done in order to achieve SDG 4 and ensure girls can learn from a quality education.
According to data included in the brief Promoting Girls’ Right to Learn in West and Central Africa, only 76 girls are enrolled in secondary school education for every 100 boys in the region. While 70% of girls start primary school, the proportion of girls who finish lower secondary education is just 36%.
Only 2.8% of girls from the poorest 40% of families in francophone countries finish primary school with adequate competency in reading and maths. These data highlight the difficulties girls in West and Central Africa face in accessing and completing education and achieving learning outcomes.
Why aren’t girls in school?
The brief reveals the various barriers leading to low participation, performance and completion rates for girls, and emphasizes how some of these obstacles are themselves worsened by a lack of girls’ education.
Social barriers, such as unequal gender norms, child marriage and early pregnancy in the region severely reduce the likelihood of girls staying in school.
West and Central Africa has the highest adolescent birth rate in the world, with almost 200 births for every 1,000 girls.
As women are traditionally valued for their domestic work and fertility, it can be difficult for families to see investment in girls’ formal education as beneficial, and they may decide that marriage is a better option. West and Central Africa is home to some of the countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
Financial barriers are shown to be a key obstacle to girls accessing education, with the high cost of schooling given by many parents as the main reason for their children not attending school. Parents provide a large amount of education financing in the region, financing equivalent to almost half of public investment in education (see more on that here). In one of the poorest regions in the world, this disproportionately affects girls due to social norms leading to the prioritization of boys’ education.
School-related barriers also limit girls’ access to and retention in school. School-related gender based violence is a common issue, with 67% of female dropout in West and Central Africa occurring as a result of violence. Gender-biased teaching and education materials prohibit girls’ learning and lead to poorer outcomes. Poor sanitary facilities pose a further challenge due to a lack of menstrual hygiene education, sanitary pads and private changing areas.
The new brief highlights how conflict and crisis exacerbates these various barriers to girls’ education in the region, with rising incidences of sexual violence and child marriage, and reduced access to and quality of education.
Girls with disabilities in West and Central Africa reportedly experience double discrimination in education as a result of negative attitudes towards both girls and disabilities. This often means that girls with disabilities are not allowed to attend school or face discrimination and violence when they do. They experience higher rates of gender-based violence in schools and encounter restrictions in assessing, escaping and reporting these experiences.
What is being done?
The brief showcases various examples of the work being done by many actors in the region to tackle barriers to girls’ learning. In Niger, for example, Save the Children is working with parents to fight child marriage and keep girls in school. Adult literacy classes, combined with sensitization sessions, are helping parents to realize the importance of education and change their attitudes towards harmful traditional practices. Additionally, accelerated courses are allowing girls to reintegrate into school and continue their education. The GPE program in Niger also includes incentives for girls' education. Results include 700 girls receiving grants to cover their living expenses while they attend lower secondary school away from home.
In Liberia, the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and local NGOs are promoting girls access, retention, and completion of education through the Gender Equitable Education Programme (GEEP). GEEP is a holistic program with a cross-sectoral strategy that incorporates protection against school related gender-based violence (SRGBV), in and around schools to reinforce girls’ successes in a safer and protective school environment. These efforts are aligned to Liberia’s Education Sector Plan 2010-2020, which aims to provide all Liberians with the opportunity to access and complete affordable education of a quality, relevance and appropriateness that meets their needs and that of the nation. This includes providing a clean, sanitary, violence-free, and conducive school environment for all children, especially girls.
A call to action
The brief provides recommendations for all stakeholders to ensure that every last girl in West and Central Africa can enroll in school and complete her education in a safe, supportive environment. It calls on all stakeholders to work together to provide girls with friendly, safe and protective learning environments, increase community support for quality girls’ education, promote gender sensitive teaching and curricula, and ensure policy and planning that allow for effective gender promotion.
The data and barriers to education demonstrated in this brief emphasize the urgent need for coordinated efforts to guarantee gender equality in education in West and Central Africa and ensure the SDGs are successfully achieved.
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