Civil society stepping in to contribute planning for gender-responsive education systems

Regional GRESP workshop held in Dakar seeks to strengthen civil society’s capacity to support in building truly gender-responsive education systems.

January 25, 2022 by Solange Akpo, ANCEFA, Houraye M. Anne, Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), Eline Versluys, UNGEI, and Jorge Ubaldo Colin Pescina, GPE Secretariat
4 minutes read
A participant at the Regional GRESP workshop held in Dakar.
A participant at the Regional GRESP workshop held in Dakar.
Credit: UNGEI

There is a sparkle in Edouine’s eyes when she speaks of how her father supported her throughout her schooling.

“My father wasn’t like other men. He taught his daughters how to dream and dream big!”

Edouine considers herself a feminist. She participated in a regional Gender-Responsive Education Sector Planning (GRESP) workshop, held in Dakar, Senegal, September 27–30, 2021.

In this first in-person workshop on GRESP since COVID-19 multiple partners joined forces to drive forward gender equality in and through education. Facilitated by FAWE and ANCEFA, the workshop brought together civil society actors as well as feminist activists like Edouine.

Participants represented 11 French-speaking countries in West and Central Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Togo), and included representatives from the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI), GIZ and GPE, with additional support from UNICEF and Gender@Work.

Role, challenges and opportunities of civil society in West and Central Africa

The GRESP is an approach to embed gender equality in the DNA of national education planning process. It focuses on mainstreaming a gender lens in the strategies to identify and tackle disparities and roadblocks in education. GRESP workshops also reinforce the leadership skills and competencies of its participants and raises the issue of oversight and accountability - all of which are critical to make systemic change happen.

Progress in this field helps countries achieve Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 5 and meet the gender targets of the African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) and their commitments enshrined in the Gender Equality Strategy for CESA (GES4CESA).

Since 2017, GPE, UNGEI and other partners have led national and regional workshops for education stakeholders in 28 countries across Africa and Asia, with over 200 participants trained. The workshop was the first one designed specifically for civil society actors, to strengthen their capacity to support governments and society more widely, in building truly gender-responsive education systems.


Workshop participants during a group activity.
Workshop participants during a group activity.

Civil society contributing more meaningfully

The Dakar workshop was conceived as a journey, from (1) gender analysis: Offering different frameworks to analyze the gendered inequalities to education; through (2) education sector planning: Focusing on how to effectively integrate a gender perspective in strategy development, budgeting and monitoring and evaluation; to (3) the development of action plans: supporting the implementation of sector plans and monitoring its impact on girls, boys, women and men.

Participants were keen to share valuable experiences and lessons learned in their fight for gender equality in education and discuss specific barriers to gender equality in their respective countries (and exchanging ideas on how to address them).

Participants also discussed their engagement in sector dialogue with governments and local education groups. One striking observation was the disparity of the civil society actor participation in spaces of decision making and sector coordination among the countries.

Recommendations from the workshop include strengthening the gender responsiveness of the action plan associated to the sector plan, such that civil society actors are ready to bring their contribution right from start of the implementation of the plan.

Additionally, governments and development partners should lead by example and create the conducive conditions that will allow civil society to be an important contributor to gender-responsive education sector planning.

A young activist taking part to the workshop.
A young activist taking part to the workshop.

Voices of young activists

The inclusion of young gender equality activists from across West and Central Africa showed the commitment to intergenerational dialogue and youth’s voices as part of the sector planning process.

These voices are quintessential to develop strategies that effectively respond to their needs. Some of their suggested interventions include acknowledging gender norms within societies and work to change them, removing financial barriers to education, promoting STEM for girls, and investing in gender-sensitive early childhood education.

Moving forward through the Gender at the Center Initiative

ANCEFA and FAWE saw a workshop for civil society organizations as a way to link GRESP with the Gender at the Center Initiative (GCI). GCI promotes gender equality in and through education in eight African countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone).

Led by a broad coalition of partners, the GCI Alliance offers support to developing countries that want to bolster gender equality in their education systems, including though the adoption and implement of the GRESP approach.

With its focus on strengthening civil society capacity, the Dakar GRESP workshop contributed to GCI’s goal by bringing together governments and civil society as partners in one common fight: Ensuring that all girls and boys can develop their full potential through safe and quality education.

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