Five FIFA World Cups ago in 2002, Bend it Like Beckham, a British film, showed the challenges that Jess, an 18-year-old young woman, faced in pursuing her dream to be a football player like her hero David Beckham.
Jess’s parents were not happy that she liked playing football so much, because they thought football was for boys. Then Jess met Jewels, who also loved football and played with a local all-girl team and invited Jess to try out for the team.
Throughout the film, Jess is conflicted between her desire to play football and her wish to follow the norms of her family. In the end, after many highs and lows, Jess’s family relaxes their strict rules and lets her play.
Too many girls are shut out of learning
Unlike Jess, millions of girls find it difficult to fulfill an even simpler aspiration: to go to school. Today, more than 130 million girls around the world between the ages of 6 and 17 are not in school for reasons ranging from social and household norms, child labor, early marriage, hostile school environment, insecurity on the way to and from schools and long distance to schools.
The Gender Review of the Global Education Monitoring Report found that only 1 in 3 countries in sub-Saharan Africa has reached gender parity in primary education. The number of countries with gender parity in secondary education is even lower –only 1 in 11. And no country in sub-Saharan Africa has gender parity in tertiary education.
This is not only bad for education but also for societies and the economy of the whole region. A recent GPE-supported study found that countries lose between US$15 trillion and US$30 trillion in life-time productivity and earning for not educating girls.
Girls’ education and gender equity is a key focal area for the Global Partnership for Education. GPE supports countries to strengthen their strategies to educating girls through national education sector analysis and planning. GPE grants not only allow robust analyses of and the situation and issues of girls’ education but also bring together stakeholders to find appropriate solutions to problems identified. For example, several training workshops on gender-responsive education sector planning are improving the quality of sector plans.
Strategies implemented by partner countries to improve education for girls
A quick scan of the Kenya, Lesotho, South Sudan and Uganda education sector plans reveal the following strategies to improve the odds for girls to get a quality education. These countries present an interesting mix of contexts as Kenya has shown impressive progress in all education indicators including gender parity in the last ten years, while South Sudan’s progress has been slowed down by conflict. Lesotho is the only country where boys are disadvantaged in schooling, reminding us that gender equality applies to boys too.
- Build appropriate school facilities
In many countries schools are far away from the localities where girls reside, and school facilities, especially access to water and separate toilets, are far from adequate. All four countries want to invest in building more schools closer to where students live and to construct water points and toilets for girls.
- Ensure safety to and in schools
Girls can become victims of harassment in schools and on the way to and from school, especially when the school is in a different location than where they live. This is true for countries with high rate of gender-based violence, like Uganda and South Sudan. These countries want to invest in laws that will make harassment illegal, and at the same time they want to develop a referral system and Help Line for girls to call to when they feel victimized.
Attacks on school by armed groups is common in South Sudan. A World Bank study demonstrated the crippling effect conflict is having on girls in this country. Women and girls suffer the most in times of conflict and war. South Sudan has signed the Safe Schools Declaration and wants to implement its recommendations as part its education sector strategy.
- Support families and communities
Girls do disproportionate amount of household chores, taking care of younger siblings or the elderly in the family, sometimes even at the cost of their schooling. Early marriage and child labor stop their prospect of getting a good education.
All four countries plan to support families with cash and sometimes with food and other non-cash items as a compensation for girls to continue their schooling. This strategy has proved very successful in other countries. Scholarships and stipends are also two effective strategies to support girls’ schooling.
- Update curriculum and textbooks
The Lesotho education sector plan identified negative representation of girls and their roles in families and societies in textbooks and learning materials as a key factor for girls not continuing their education. The government aims to revise the curriculum and textbooks to fix this issue. South Sudan has developed textbooks that encourage girls to continue schooling.
- Gather gender data for planning and monitoring
All countries want to improve their education information and management systems to gather more and better data on girls’ education. Gender disaggregated data on budget allocation and spending is especially important to allow meaningful progress on girls’ education. Kenya and Lesotho plan to do so during the implementation of their education sector plan. Other countries can learn and follow their example.
A wise investment
Supporting girls to fulfill their aspirations is not easy, especially when it comes to bending rules and norms that have been prevalent in their countries for many years. But it’s the right thing to do, and that’s why GPE continues to support countries to develop and implement strategies so that girls are supported to get a quality education.