In early March, we had the opportunity to celebrate International Women’s Day in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, visiting schools supported by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). We discussed with students, educators, and government partners the challenges the country and its education system are facing, among them the continuing threat of terrorism and a growing refugee crisis.
What touched us deeply were the personal stories of Sakinatu, Nafisa and Morinatu, students from the Lycée Nelson Mandela, an all-female high school in Ouagadougou.
The girls spoke to us – and Burkina Faso’s Minister of Education, Stanislas Ouaro – about their personal aspirations, the challenges they face, and their hopes for the country. These bright young women have probably been exposed to more hardship than most of us can imagine. And with poise, candor and resilience, they described their long and unsafe journeys to school, how poverty has driven some of their classmates to early marriage and even prostitution, and how, despite it being the norm in their own families, they don’t agree with polygamy.
They told us about sexuality education in their schools and spoke of someday becoming lawyers, journalists or interpreters – careers they know are possible only with a good education.
Girls still face significant obstacles getting an education
Today, more than 132 million girls are out of school globally, and despite significant progress over the last couple decades, girls are still 1.5 times more likely than boys to be excluded from primary school.
Denmark is working with GPE to help give every girl the education she and her community needs to prosper. Getting to that goal requires clearing away the enormous barriers that keep girls out of school, most prominently: early marriage, poverty, pressure to put girls to work, stubborn bias against girls and women, long treks to and from school, conflict and fragility, threats of sexual violence, a lack of sanitary facilities, and a scarcity of female role models who can improve girls’ learning.
The girls at Lycée Nelson Mandela are all-too aware of these impediments and, even though they are still in school and learning, they know there will be other challenges ahead. But there is no doubt in their minds that continuing their education will be the key to shaping a better future for themselves.
When girls are educated, healthy and safe, the whole world benefits. If all girls received a quality education, child marriage would virtually be eradicated, and lifetime earnings for women could increase by US$15 to US$30 billion globally. Education is the right of every girl – no matter where she lives and what background she is from – and it makes economic sense for countries when girls and women are educated.
Gender equality and educating girls is at the heart of GPE’s work and Denmark’s engagement
The government of Denmark and GPE are committed to promoting gender equality in and through education. Denmark is a global leader in the movement for female empowerment, promoting girls’ education and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as economic empowerment and healthcare.
Gender equality is also at the heart of GPE’s work, and as one of the partnership’s biggest donors, Denmark is helping to support systemic and sustainable solutions ensuring that gender equality strategies are integrated in long-term education planning. This includes investing in qualified teachers (especially women who are important role models for girls) and making sure they are available in under-served communities; addressing health issues, such as poor menstrual hygiene management, which can leave many girls behind; working with communities to promote wider acceptance of the value of girls’ education; ensuring girls are safe at school and on their way to school; and using data to make sure all girls count and get counted.
Helping Burkina Faso to build a stronger education system
There are many urgent issues facing Burkina Faso, a low-income country ranking 183 on the United Nation’s human development index of 189 countries. The security situation in the North and East is extremely volatile and unrest in the region around Burkina Faso has driven 25,000 refugees to camps within its borders.
Dozens of teachers have been attacked and some even killed by militant extremists. In that environment, students are afraid to go to school, and girls are among the most vulnerable. While approximately 1,000 schools have been closed, leaving 120,000 children without access to formal education, the government works hard to reopen the schools.
GPE, along with other education partners, will continue to work with the government and its partners to ensure more children are in school and learning in Burkina Faso and make the education system stronger, more resilient and better-equipped to respond to and bounce back from crises.
Sakinatu, Nafisa, Morinatu and many other boys and girls in Burkina Faso are doing their part to seize their right to learn. The government of Denmark and GPE will – and, indeed, must – do our part to help them.