In Burkina Faso, girls speak out against the security and learning crises

In focus: Girls' education and gender equality
GPE CEO Alice Albright met with young education activists who are calling on G7 and world leaders to act.

March 18, 2019 by Sabine Terlecki, Global Partnership for Education Secretariat
5 minutes read
Alice Albright meets students at Laye primary school in Laye, Burkina Faso. Credit: GPE/Roland Zanre
Alice Albright meets students at Laye primary school in Laye, Burkina Faso.
Credit: GPE/Roland Zanre

Many girls in Burkina Faso face severe barriers to schooling, which include lack of access to school, poor quality teaching, gender-based violence, early marriage and pregnancy. These barriers are in addition to the security challenge posed by terrorist violence in several regions, which have led to school closings and population displacements. Conversely, not being in school increases girls’ vulnerability to these obstacles.

My school got closed after terrorist attacks in January 2019. At least 47 people were killed according to governmental sources. My heartfelt wish right now is to resume school.

Rose*, 17 years old

During a recent visit to Burkina Faso, Alice Albright, GPE CEO and member of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, met with a few girl education activists to hear firsthand the kind of barriers they are facing and the recommendations they have for the global community.

As insecurity spreads, the learning crisis worsens

Burkina Faso is facing a major security crisis. The Sahel region in the north, bordering Mali and Niger, has suffered bouts of violence from various terrorist groups. Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that since the beginning of 2019, about 1,000 people have fled the country every single day.

The situation in the affected regions is extremely volatile, and the increase in threats and attacks has caused fear across the region and led to the closure of over 1,000 schools. This is affecting approximately 150,000 children; dozens of teachers have been attacked, some even killed. Students are afraid to go to school. The affected population amounts to roughly 3% of the whole school-age population.

The government, which has taken up the Presidency of the G5 Sahel Alliance in February 2019, has a 5-year strategy to move beyond emergency response to a long-term plan that will mitigate the security issues. This includes measures to facilitate relocation to secure urban centers, to increase the number of government Franco-Arabic schools, educational radio programming, as well as inspection services to make sure teachers are not leaving their posts.

The government is focusing on education quality and encouraging communities to get involved and take ownership of schools to reinforce and protect the value of education.

Alice Albright listens to girl education advocates talk about their challenges to accessing education. Credit: GPE/Roland Zanre
Alice Albright listens to girl education advocates talk about their challenges to accessing education.
GPE/Roland Zanre

Girls advocate for their right to education

Multiple crises and other barriers prevent children, especially girls, from getting a quality education. Girls are disproportionally affected by the crises, which is why including girls in education remains a high priority for the government of Burkina Faso. Since 2013, the same number of girls and boys are completing primary school, and the target is close to being met in lower-secondary school. This could quickly change due to the security crisis.

During her visit, Alice Albright had the opportunity to talk with a few girls in primary and secondary schools, and she also met with a group of eight girl education activists – introduced to GPE by Plan International Burkina Faso - to hear what they had to say on the challenges they face and what they need.

The girls raised poverty, the distance to school growing insecurity, gender-based violence, sexual harassment and abuse, and early marriage as key obstacles to gender equality in education in Burkina Faso.

I am 17 years old. On January 31th, my grandfather sent me to another village to attend his brothers’ funeral. Actually, this was a lie, instead he had organized a forced marriage for me. I was brought to the home of the man I had never met before and whom I was supposed to marry. What I feared most happened in his bed. I was crying day and night. I did not know him, did not want a husband, did not want him. What I wanted was to go back to school. On February 19th I managed to escape. I went straight to the gendarmerie. The gendarmes referred me to the local social affairs office who have organized protection for me.

Françoise*, 17 years

Girls not Brides reports that in Burkina Faso, 52% of girls are married before their 18th birthday and 10% are married before the age of 15. According to UNICEF, Burkina Faso has the fifth highest rate of child marriage in the world.

Other girls reported about school-related gender-based violence as a daily challenge. They are exposed to physical, psychological and sexual violence and harassment by men on their way to school and at school by their male peers and even teachers.

Some of the girls talked about how their domestic workload gets in the way of their studies. Linked to this are the cultural norms that don’t prioritize a girl’s education over her traditional duties and roles. Without the support of their families, many girls drop out of school.

To address these obstacles, the girls recommended that the government, with the support of the global community, re-open and secure the schools in conflict-affected areas as soon as possible, build more schools to shorten travel distances and increase the number of dormitories, improve water and sanitation facilities in school, implement measures to curb school-related gender-based violence, and release data on unwanted early pregnancies in schools.

17 million trained teachers are needed in Africa by 2030

One of the key solutions the girls acknowledged is the positive impact that qualified female teachers have as role models to encourage them to complete their schooling.

Most of us face gender-based violence on a regular basis. Qualified female teachers can help us to complete our education.

Edith* (19 years old)

17 million trained teachers are needed in Africa by 2030 to achieve SDG 4. In order to significantly increase the number of qualified teachers by 2030, GPE is promoting the adoption of a commitment by G7 and African leaders to substantially increase the number of qualified teachers in Africa and support gender-transformative teacher policies.  

GPE brings girls voices to the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council

As a member of the 2019 G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, Alice Albright will be able to take these and other girls’ testimonies to the group, tasked with bringing a gender equality lens to the work of the G7.

More specifically the group will compile and promote a compendium of laws conducive to gender equality, leading to the realization of the right for all girls to access a quality education.

The Global Partnership for Education is privileged to work with the G7 and partners to promote gender equality and the systemic changes needed to ensure a generation of educated, healthy, and safe girls across Africa by 2030, including the ones we met in Burkina Faso.

* Note: all names have been changed to protect the identities of the girls


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