In Benin, acting together to improve girls’ education

Using data and evidence, partners are working together to improve girls’ access to education and reduce gender gaps through a collaborative approach in Benin.

April 11, 2023 by Victorine Djossou Deha, UNICEF Benin, Wilfrid Guezodje, Ministry of Basic Education, Benin, and Aby Mze-Boina, UNICEF Benin
5 minutes read
A young girl reading at the blackboard at the Sô-Ava primary school in Benin. Credit: GPE/Chantal Rigaud
A young girl reading at the blackboard at the Sô-Ava primary school in Benin.
Credit: GPE/Chantal Rigaud

This is the third blog in our series on gender quality to mark the month of International Women’s Day. It highlights the multisectoral approach being taken to address gender-based barriers impacting girls’ education opportunities, starting with access and retention, but also addressing harmful social norms through community mobilization.

Over the past 25 years, we have witnessed significant progress towards gender parity in access to primary and secondary education globally. So why has Benin seen deteriorating enrollment rates for girls and widening gender gaps?

This is the alarming question that partners asked themselves in 2021 when observing 2017–2020 education data.

Not only was a growing gap visible in the data, but the actions in place to improve girls’ access to education were not yielding the desired results. This reflection gave rise to a discussion between the ministries of education, civil society and technical and financial partners during the 2021 joint sector review.

Partners agreed on the need to organize a forum to analyze the challenge in detail using a collaborative approach, recognizing that improving outcomes for girls was not just an education issue.

A forum for dialogue-based data and evidence

The forum was designed to include actors from different sectors, such as health, education and social development.

With the support of the Vice-Presidency of Benin and the coordination of the Ministry of Preschool and Primary Education, the National Forum to Accelerate Girls’ Education took place in March 2022. Young women, the government, civil society, religious leaders and technical and financial partners participated.

The available evidence served as the basis for the discussions: a gender analysis and the statistical yearbooks of the ministries of education indicated the extent of the gap and the main barriers.

In Benin just 59% of girls complete the primary cycle, a rate lower than peer countries in the region, such as Togo (86%), Senegal (67%), Nigeria (69%), Burkina Faso (69%) and Côte d'Ivoire (77%).

Girls face barriers to access education, such as a lack of schools and challenges to cover the costs of fees, transport and school supplies.

Within the school, there are also obstacles, such as a pedagogy that perpetuate gender stereotypes, and harmful social norms that do not encourage girls to continue their studies.

Child marriage and gender-based violence in and around school hinder both girls’ education and gender equality in society more broadly. Furthermore, child marriage is a key barrier to the country’s development goals.

A recent study found that if Benin had eliminated child marriage and early pregnancy in 2015, the country could accrue up to US$ 541 million in benefits by 2030 (or about 1.3% of the 2020 gross domestic product), mainly from additional income to women, avoided costs of health and other public services, increased labor force participation and changes to demographic trends.

Seeking consensus on priorities for action

From the start it became clear that a gender analysis specific to the education sector was needed based on the scale of the challenge. A focused analysis could determine what actions should be prioritized to overcome the barriers to, and within, education for girls at the system level.

During the forum it was also agreed that any research should strive to transparently share its results with communities, young women and their families.

Civil society, unions and youth leaders played a key role in defining the forum's priorities and underscored the importance of the discussion. Members of national civil society, such as the Fédération Nationale des Parents d’Elèves et d’Etudiants du Bénin (FENAPEB), and the national offices of international partners, such as Plan and FAWE, were part of the event.

As part of the opening panel the spokesperson for young women reminded participants that education is not only essential to achieve the country’s economic and social development objectives. It is thanks to education that they, and other women, can participate in debate and decision-making in Benin.

After two days of rich discussions the forum panelists agreed on eight recommendations:

  1. Establish a committee that represents multiple the stakeholders involved in girls’ education to coordinate and follow up on recommendations from the forum.
  2. Develop a holistic and multi-sector strategy for accelerating girls' education led by the government, with the participation of the inclusive committee.
  3. Carry out a review of pilot experiences and other community approaches that have produced convincing results.
  4. Establish an action mechanism including the revitalization of community committees involved in the management of schools.
  5. Strengthen community mobilization and commitment in favor of access and retention of young people in the education system, including by promoting "positive masculinity" through specific awareness-raising and training actions for educational actors, families and communities.
  6. Develop and continue to disseminate evidence on the social and economic effects of girls' education.
  7. Strengthen educational alternatives that consider out-of-school girls and young women out of employment or training.
  8. Strengthen the cross-sector approach, coherence and coordination of actions aimed at accelerating girls' education.
  9. Establish a resource mobilization mechanism to support the implementation of the strategy for accelerating girls' education.

Aligning priorities on girls’ education for change at a system level

Specific decisions have already been taken following the forum. For example, the extension of free education for girls in the second cycle in 20 communes, among the most vulnerable in the country.

The forum also led to more funding for vocational and technical education for girls. The forum's discussion and agreements are feeding into the development of the Partnership Compact, where the country will set priorities aimed at transforming its education system.

However, Benin is on an encouraging path, thanks to inclusive and evidence-based dialogue.

The involvement of ministries of education and health, civil society, youth and partners addressed the multiple dimensions of what it means to accelerate progress for girls' education: access, pedagogy, eliminating violence and working at the community level.

Together, we are confident that we can move towards equal education for all girls and boys.

GPE 2025 operating model rollout

Benin started rolling out the GPE 2025 operating model at the start of 2022. As part of this process government and partners have engaged in an analysis of four enabling factors for transforming the education system.

The analysis has highlighted the importance of improving the availability of sex-disaggregated data for education at different levels of education and geographical levels.

Benin is also working to align the conclusions of the forum on girls’ education and the education sector plan for 2030, currently under development.

Partners in the country, led by the government, have decided to focus their efforts on improving teachers’ qualifications, reducing the proportion of out-of-school children (particularly among the poorest households), improving girls’ access to education and ensuring learning environments respond to the needs of girls and boys.

The country is currently engaged in a discussion to select key priorities to drive system transformation and the best way to use the financing available from GPE.

Benin is one of 30 partner countries eligible to the Girls’ Education Accelerator.


The latest updates on Benin's work under the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) can be accessed via the country page.


Read other blogs in this series.

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