Last month, I participated as a FAWE youth representative in an education session on securing the right to education for displaced women and girls. It was the only session on rights-based education during the NGO Forum that preceded the 64th ordinary session of the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights (ACPHR).
Although ACPHR oversees all human rights, its focus on the right to education hasn’t been explicit. So the forum was an opportunity to position education in emergencies high on its agenda at the continental level and ensure that it continues to occupy a space on the ACPHR platform with policy makers and civic actors.
At the forum, it was striking to see the persistent commitment of civil society organizations and how each one understood and actualized the global commitment to human rights. For example, there are some individuals who sacrificed their very high offices of power and influence in order to found organizations that fight for the rights, justice and inclusivity of vulnerable and marginalized populations.
Activism it seems needs a backbone, one that is able to survive the trying storms of political threats, uncertainty and unending protocols and procedures that sometimes make the desirable change seem unachievable.
I instinctively found myself wondering whether I too would give up so much for the sake of defending the rights of the marginalized and vulnerable. As a youth who is passionate about education, I firmly believe in the values enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the newly launched Kampala Convention for the protection of people who are internally displaced in Africa.
This is why FAWE added her voice to the NGO Forum to speak up about education and defend it as a human right, particularly for children and youth displaced by conflict and crisis.
The Forum facilitated a multi-stakeholder and intergenerational dialogue among civil society, youth, ministers responsible for human rights, academics and regional organizations both within and outside Africa, and the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS).
An educated girl is a powerful woman
In Africa, girls and women experience various vulnerabilities – for example accessing education, health services or even employment. These intensify exponentially during conflict and crisis.
In these situations, educating girls and women becomes not only a livelihood strategy but also a path to conflict resolution by imploring the youth to use alternative ways of seeking change without violence in order to build peace, social cohesion and strong citizenship.
Research overwhelmingly suggests that educated populations are less likely to engage in violent acts than those less educated, and that there is a direct correlation between education and levels of income, where those with low levels of education are likely to earn less and more prone to violence than those with higher levels of education.
Calling for more female teachers during crises
It is essential that more female teachers are available, in particular in refugee camps, to cushion the vulnerable girls and ensure that no girl is left behind, while efforts are made to integrate refugees, IDPs and returnees into the national education systems in the host countries.
However, this requires adequate funding if the right to education for displaced persons is to truly become a reality.
Higher risk of child marriage during conflict
In Africa forced displacement is largely due to conflict, natural disasters, human rights violations or political instability, and has resulted in more than 12 million displaced persons and an estimated 6.2 million refugees and asylum seekers across the continent.
The education session at the forum provided a space to highlight the key factors that limit girls and women’s access to education in conflict and crisis.
The session also highlighted the misconceived strategies that families employ to keep their girls safe – for example, girls are married off to ‘influential’ elders or military leaders based on the assumption that this would guarantee protection for the girls’ and family - although these may ultimately undermine the girls’ rights.
The reality in many cases is that girls can end up being subjected to violence and exploitation.
Growing civil society’s space to ensure education remains a right for IDPs
Providing for the education of displaced children and youth requires long term strategies that take into account the various needs of refugees.
Many civil society actors called for this, as CSOs occupy a unique space in terms of knowledge on laws and regulations on human rights, networks and evidence and the ability to monitor and report violations.
CSOs were encouraged to work with governments on access to education for displaced women and girls and draw the attention of governments to factors that hinder this right.
Ultimately, CSOs are also pushing for governments to resolve conflicts, address the crises and ensure adequate conflict prevention mechanisms are in place.
It’s also important that interventions be guided by regional and global rights-based instruments that have a gender component such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Maputo Protocol, the 1961 AU convention governing specific needs of refugees, the Kampala Convention, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) among others.
More voices are needed to fight for rights-based education
The forum led to a number of resolutions and recommendations, but very few focused on education in emergencies.
Thankfully, African governments were called on to ratify the African charter on rights and welfare of the child to allow for registration of births and deaths, which is a fundamental first step to plan for their access to a quality education.
However, youth empowerment was not given the focus so desperately needed. My message to regional rights bodies is that they need to include our voices more so that quality education remains a right for displaced persons, and so that we can not only have a positive impact on crisis and conflict prevention but also participate in peace negotiations.
We must do all we can to avoid more migration driven by conflict and crisis, and to build a world where more African children and youth, particularly girls, have access to quality education.