Education, particularly for girls, needs to be protected at all costs

Millions of girls still face lots of challenges to access education throughout the world. For those with disabilities, the situation is even worse. This can’t keep happening. GPE replenishment taking place in July 2021 is the opportunity to secure enough funding to make sure more children can have an education.

4 minutes read
Bilky Wada, 15, is a 6th grade girl at Miga Central Primary School, Nigeria. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Bilky Wada, 15, is a 6th grade girl at Miga Central Primary School, Nigeria.
Credit: Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Nigeria has just experienced its third mass kidnapping of school children since December 2020. As someone who grew up in Southwestern Nigeria, but now studies in the UK, I remember being in my secondary school the very first time this happened to the Chibok girls in 2014.

We hoped and prayed for their return and that more would be done to protect those most at risk, so that it never happened again. Unfortunately, seven years later, things seem to be getting worse. I cannot imagine the fear these girls felt and still feel, the intensity of living that reality may very well stop them from ever going within the walls of a classroom again.

Last week, I shared some of these thoughts with Helen Grant MP – the Trade Envoy for Nigeria who was recently appointed the additional role of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education. Together with five other GPE youth leaders from Kenya, Nigeria, and the UK, we raised our concerns, expectations, and motivations.

Our conversation spanned our drive for becoming education activists, our views on the effects of a lack of education on girls prior to COVID, and the impact of COVID itself. We also spoke about climate change and its effects on education, as well as the digital divide.

As someone who grew up in Nigeria, it was very interesting to hear from the Kenyan Youth Leaders as they spoke about the importance of education for girls, but also about the reality and impact of the lack of it. One of the youth leaders spoke about the consequences of climate change, with many schools being submerged in water. She shared that schools are not able to function due to COVID, which caused an increase in many issues such as period poverty, teenage pregnancies and so on.

We highlighted how the problems were even worse for girls with disabilities as the intersectionality of the two parts of their identities (being a girl, and being disabled), made it harder than it was for others.

We also told Helen the importance of quality education rather than the quantity. It is no use if students cannot read or write at the age of 12. The need for focus on quality also presented itself more during the pandemic. As some children were able to move online, many more were not afforded this privilege and education came to a total standstill.

Coupled up with economies being hit hard and poverty rising, schools that in one form or the other served as a protection for many girls were simply not there, and many of them were being married off. Those that saw a glimpse of a dream that they wanted for themselves, had that taken away.

For many girls, the choice to receive an education is grabbed from them. This can’t keep happening. Education gives us a chance, it allows many girls to know that their choice is valid, that their dreams are valid, that they are valid, and are equally as important as their brothers or male counterparts.

GPE is doing just that, apart from giving children the opportunity to have an education, the larger picture is way bigger than that. Since its creation in 2002, GPE has worked to get over 160 million children in school, whilst also ensuring the girl child is not left behind. The GPE replenishment will be happening in July 2021, hosted by the UK and Kenya, where we hope to raise at least $5billion over the next five years from different governments, in order to give way more children the opportunity to have an education.

The hour we spent with the MP, if anything, felt like it gave me more of a push to do all that I could to continue to ensure that education particularly of those who are normally left behind, is not forgotten.

Hearing the different personal experiences of youth leaders - whether they had the benefit of choice or had first-hand experience of seeing what was wrong with the system and knowing it just was not right – the urgency to act is clear. It was seeing, as everyone spoke, the conviction that something had to change. The passion of the youth leaders is definitely the sort that causes change - when acted upon.

I hope Helen Grant took the same message and feelings away as I did. Change starts with each of us, and it must start now by funding education.

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I'm blessed by those articles! I would like to know how I can get support for educating girls in the rural area. I'm a passionate peer educator who stand for the right of girls in our society. I have been educating girls on many topics, for years now. I want to go beyond where I'm now! I know I have what it takes to impact in the lives of our girls today. The story of my life built this passion in me!!!

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