The female activists of the education movement are bold for change

Young girls in class at the Soya Ali Hossain Nationalized Primary School. Credit: GPE/Daisuke Kanazawa

Today, International Women's Day, 130 million girls around the world do not go to school. The work of civil society organizations, in particular their female leaders, is crucial to push for change and allow all girls and women to learn. In this photo, young girls raise their hands at the Soya Ali Hossain Nationalized Primary School in Bangladesh.

CREDIT: Credit: GPE/Daisuke Kanazawa
“There is no dearth of examples of strong women around us who continue to be a beacon of change. They are our teachers, our social workers, trainers, managers and parents... the believers in the power of education as the way forward.”

K. Zehra Arshad, National Coordinator, Pakistan Coalition for Education, and Civil Society Representative to the Global Partnership for Education Board of Directors

International Women’s Day 2017 is calling for us all to #BeBoldforChange, and there is no question that change is needed. Education is the human right which has the highest chance of transforming the lives of women and children, but 479 million women – 13% of the world’s female population – cannot read or write.

1 in 10 girls were out of primary school in 2014, compared with 1 in 12 boys. 47% of the 32 million girls who were out of primary school in 2014 are expected to never go to school – that’s over 15 million girls who will never see the inside of a classroom.

Examples of civil society in action for girls’ education

Civil society activists, at national, regional and international levels, have long campaigned for this change, and delivered actions on the ground to push progress forward:

  • Working with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), the Education for All Network (EFANet) Gambia has supported the establishment of new TUSEME girls’ peer clubs in schools, promoting girls’ education through their empowerment.
  • The Movimento de Educação para Todos (MEPT) in Mozambique is part of the government’s technical group working on girls’ education, and the coalition engaged with its members, broader civil society and the government to address issues affecting girls’ participation.
  • A survey was conducted by the Civil Society Action Coalition for Education For All (CSACEFA) to ascertain the level of enrollment, retention and completion of secondary education of girls in northern Nigeria. Coalition members used the results for advocacy and sensitization activities with the general public. In addition, the coalition has translated the Malala Fund advocacy guide into Hausa for use at the local level.
  • The Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) carried out budget tracking, focused particularly on budgeting in relation to girls’ education, in 17 districts across the country under the title Do Schools Get Money 2016.

Celebrating the female leaders of change

But as we fight for women’s and girls’ right to education, we must also recognize and celebrate the many women who are already being bold for change: the female activists and leaders of the education civil society movement. Celebrating their stories, and shining a light on their work, must be integral to the movement as a means to drive positive change for all women.

43% of the member coalitions of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) are led by women, in roles ranging from national coordinator to international chief executive. This percentage is reflected in the make-up of GCE’s elected Board Members – and the GCE President (Camilla Croso), Vice-President (Rasheda Choudhury), and Chairperson (Monique Fouilhoux) are all women.

The coordinators of three of the four regional education coalitions – ANCEFA in Africa, ASPBAE in Asia-Pacific, and CLADE in Latin America – are women. In the recent elections for the GPE Board civil society representatives, four of the six seats went to women – and for the first time ever, the civil society constituency for developing countries (CSO2) is represented by two women.

Words of wisdom and inspiration from leading female activists

For IWD 2017, we asked some of the female leaders of the education civil society movement to give us their perspectives as female activists in the fight for inclusion and equity for women and girls.

“As a woman activist for human rights, I have experienced that struggling for gender equality is a daily practice: it not only underpins every initiative we promote in favor of the human right to education, but also the relations we establish along the way, in a world where patriarchy is still so entrenched. And as a mother, the need to challenge gender stereotypes has been even greater. All of these experiences have deepened my belief in the transformative power of education towards a world of equality, dignity and peace.” Camilla Croso
Camilla Croso

GCE President and Coordinator of the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE), Camilla Croso has represented civil society at national, regional and global levels. She played a pivotal role in campaigning for a rights-based Sustainable Development Goal for education, and remains the representative the voice of civil society across many different fora, particularly as a member and the former Co-Chair of the Education For All (now SDG4/Education 2030) Steering Committee.

Photo: GCE

“International Women's Day is a reminder for all of us to look back for lessons, and to look forward for continuing our efforts to ensure women’s rights. Many women like us are fortunate to have education, training and exposure to ideas, innovations and learning. We have to pave the way for other women to take up leadership, to demonstrate that each and every woman has the potential and the right to be a change-maker.” Rasheda K. Choudhury
Rasheda K. Choudhury

Rasheda Choudhury is the Vice-President of GCE and Executive Director of the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) in Bangladesh. CAMPE was one of the founding coalitions of the GCE movement, and today leads a network spanning more than a thousand education NGOs and educator groups in Bangladesh.

Photo: GCE

“Human rights are indivisible: unless girls’ and women’s other human rights are robustly promoted and defended, their right to education can never be fully realized, and vice versa. We must recognize the centrality of the fulfillment of women’s and girls’ rights to education and economic empowerment; not just because of gains in efficiency or productivity, or positive returns to investment, but because women’s rights are human rights.” Monique Fouilhoux
Monique Fouilhoux

With experience both as a national teachers’ union leader and as a former Deputy Secretary-General for one of the world’s biggest professional federations, Education International, Monique Fouilhoux, the Chair of the GCE Board, has had a long career as a leader in the education civil society movement. For Monique,

Photo: GCE

“When I started my professional life I came across few women who were actually instrumental in shaping policies, and their opinions were almost never acknowledged by their male colleagues. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the colleagues who believed in creating spaces for those who want to make a change. This is why I am of the firm belief that no longer should we ‘tread’ the path: the need of the hour is for purposeful strides, in a world where binaries are increasingly becoming obsolete. Being a strong advocate for women’s rights, I have found education is the only way to change the world.”K. Zehra Arshad
K. Zehra Arshad

K. Zehra Arshad has recently been re-elected to represent the CSO2 constituency on the GPE Board of Directors, and is the national coordinator for the Pakistan Coalition for Education – which also has a female president. Her experiences as a female leader in the civil society movement have constantly influenced her work.

Photo: GCE

Gender equality requires bold action

The convictions and actions of these and many more female leaders in the broader education movement have been paving the way for women and girls for decades, but the battle is still far from being won.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, the gender gap – across education, health, economic participation and political empowerment – will not be closed until 2186.

To make a real change for girls and women, governments must be bold. National education policies which consider the needs of girls, and ensure the eradication of discriminatory practices, must be accelerated. This ranges from eliminating cost barriers, to ensuring the provision of appropriate sanitary facilities; from achieving balance between the numbers of male and female teachers, to gender-sensitive budgeting.

It is unacceptable that women make up two thirds of the world’s adult population who cannot read or write – governments must take seriously, and budget for, youth and adult literacy, with a focus on achieving gender parity.

And all activists must be bold to help effect this change. 169 years – or seven generations – is far too long a wait.


Shaharazad (also known as Sherry) joined the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) in January 2010 to oversee the delivery of GCE’s 'Education For All' campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Africa. She is...

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