Under Canada's leadership, the G7 summit held earlier this month in Charlevoix produced a strong declaration in support of "quality education for girls, adolescent girls and women in developing countries", including in emergencies and in conflict-affected and fragile states.
This is most welcome from the top 7 world economies, as we know how life changing education can be for girls and women, and how their education benefits not just themselves but the lives of all those around them, and through it, their countries.
To reach the development goals that the world has set for 2030, it is clear that girls and women will have to be part of the solution in all sectors, including education (SDG 4). Because like the links of a chain, all 17 SDGs are intertwined and require working across sectors to optimize results, especially in crisis contexts.
Girls are disproportionately affected in crisis
In countries affected by conflict, the situation is extremely hard for all children, but for girls, living in those countries puts them even further behind: they are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, young women in these contexts are nearly 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than their counterparts in countries not affected by conflict.
GPE's own Results Report 2018 shows that girls living in fragile and conflict affected contexts are particularly disadvantaged in terms of primary and lower secondary completion. In 2015, the primary completion rate was 64.5% for girls in these contexts, compared to 73.5% for boys, while at the lower secondary level, the completion rate was 39.2% for girls and 47.2% for boys.
For girls, missing school makes them vulnerable to exploitation, early marriage and pregnancies, and a life during which they'll never be able to use their full potential.
Countries affected by conflict are a GPE priority
Increased investment in education is essential to ensure that education systems can withstand conflicts, and provide safe spaces for continuity of learning when faced with shocks such as conflicts and natural disasters.
For GPE, supporting countries affected by fragility and conflict is a high priority and our engagement has grown over the past years: 60% of GPE implementation grants were allocated to partner countries affected by fragility and conflict in 2016 compared to 44% in 2012. Close to half of GPE partner countries are fragile or affected by conflict.
The good news is that GPE's support is making a difference: in partner countries affected by fragility and conflict, the number of girls completing school for every 100 boys rose from 74 to 88 for primary school, and from 67 to 83 for lower-secondary between 2002 and 2015.
This means many more girls in these countries are now in school and learning.
Many factors compound to keep girls out of school. Three girls in GPE countries tell their stories of the barriers they have overcome to complete their education.
Juliana, Cote d'Ivoire
Juliana, the daughter of two cocoa farmers in Mamakoffikro, Cote d’Ivoire, is the first girl in her family to go to school.
In Cote d'Ivoire, only 87 girls for every 100 boys are in school. Since schooling became compulsory in 2015 for all children aged 6 to 16, attitudes have been changing. In the words of Juliana's teacher, "Parents now understand that both girls and boys need to go to school to succeed in all aspects of life."
Juliana would like to become a teacher. She has 3 younger siblings who are going to follow in her footsteps and get an education too.
Bendu is 14 and in 2nd grade. She didn’t start school until she was 10, because her family couldn’t afford exam fees. Schools in Liberia are tuition-free, but some charge informal fees to offset operating costs.
Bendu often gets sent home because she is tardy. Her aunt and grandmother don't let her leave the house until she is finished with her chores.
"Before I can go to school I have to sweep the house, wash the dishes, haul water and clean all of the rooms. My cousin used to live here and we would do all of these things together. But now it's only me. I wake up at 5 am and sometimes I am still not finished by the time I need to leave for school. And I am not allowed to leave until all the work is done. When I tell my grandmother, I have to go or I'm going to be late, she just says, 'That's your problem. You figure it out.'
As a child, Rumana didn’t go to school and so she didn’t learn to read or write. In 2016 she was 26 years old and had just started 7th grade.
When she became a mother, she realized that she couldn't help her children with their homework or answer their questions. So she decided to learn and go to school.
Rumana and Madga, her best friend, started a small ice cream business to earn money to cover their school fees. They continue to sell ice cream, take care of their families and go to school.
GPE supports governments to increase the odds for girls
To support girls and young women like Juliana, Bendu and Rumana, ministries of education need to incorporate strategies into their national education sector plans to enable girls to get to school, remain in school in a safe, protective, empowering environment, and complete their learning.
GPE is working in strategic partnership with the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI) to support partner countries to develop skills for designing gender-responsive education sector plans that do just that.
In a recent workshop hosted in Togo in May, GPE and UNGEI brought together seven countries - five of them affected by conflict and fragility – with technical partner agencies including UNICEF, UNESCO-IIEP, Plan International, AU/CIEFA, ANCIEFA and FAWE, to build a shared understanding of how to integrate gender into every aspect of their sector planning – including gender data analysis, strategy design, inclusive consultation processes, gender budgeting and costing, working across sectors, monitoring for gender results, and institutional arrangements for accountability.
Participants from Togo, the Central African Republic, Liberia, Mali, and Sierra Leone – all countries affected by fragility and conflict – together with Cameroon and Guinea, assessed their own education sector plans and came up with action plans that seek to ensure that future planning for education takes full account of the gender challenge, and delivers stronger results for girls.
The Togo workshop is the third of a series, with previous events held in Tanzania in March 2017, and Nepal in October 2017. Building on these successes, a second round is in the planning stage.