The importance of educating girls for lasting peace

An education activist from Nigeria explains her experience in advocating for 12 years of education, in particular for girls, to ensure peace and development in Africa.

March 03, 2020 by Habiba Mohammed, Centre for Girls’ Education - Nigeria
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6 minute read
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Left to Right: Rita Tunwah from Youth Coalition for education, Liberia; Habiba Mohammed from Center for girls' education, Nigeria; Victoria Egbetayo from GPE and Juliet Kimotho from FAWE at the session during the African Union Forum
Left to Right: Rita Tunwah from Youth Coalition for education, Liberia; Habiba Mohammed from Center for girls' education, Nigeria; Victoria Egbetayo from GPE and Juliet Kimotho from FAWE at the session during the African Union Forum
Femi Aderibigbe/Malala Fund

I recently attended the African Union Summit, held this year under the theme “Silencing the guns”. Through my work, I’ve learned that there is a clear link between working to achieve peace, development and ensuring that girls can get an education.

When girls are educated, they make sure that there is peace. Women want their families to grow and thrive in peaceful conditions, not to be involved in wars.

When there is conflict, women and girls are the most negatively affected. But when a woman is educated, she supports the education of her children and establishes a positive generational cycle.

When positive cycles are established, conflict is reduced because the women are striving to improve their lives, those of their children and working against conflict, war, and hunger – which no mother wants for her children.

Quality education can empower girls

In my experience in Northern Nigeria, one of the barriers girls face is poor quality of education. In many cases, parents are willing to send their children to school but when the children don’t learn, parents look for alternative ways to secure their childrens’ futures. One of the common alternatives is child marriage.

In conflict situations, girls are even more vulnerable to rape and assault while travelling to school. However, through my work at the Center for Girls’ Education, I’ve seen that when girls are supported through safe spaces and other similar initiatives, they learn skills that support them in decision making, increase their self-esteem, and help them understand that they can be who they want to be.

If every girl could be empowered with 12 years of education, conflict, religious extremism such as Boko Haram, and kidnappings would decrease dramatically.

Kaduna State increases compulsory education to 12 years

Nigeria’s universal basic education (UBE) policy provides for nine years of basic education. Thanks to advocacy work with the government of Kaduna state, the state has now increased this policy to 12 years.

The governor of Kaduna state is passionate about education; He believes in its value and has made many positive changes in the state.

But many girls across the country do not even receive the mandatory nine years of basic education. In Nigeria, over 10.5 million girls are out of school.

To allow them to get back into the education system, the existing infrastructure needs to be improved, teachers need to be trained and re-trained, and teachers’ salaries need to be increased.

Implementing these changes would encourage more people to want to be teachers and more parents to want their daughters to go to school.

Bringing change to the whole country

I have been working with Malala Fund Education Champions in Nigeria to shift the national policy from 9 to 12 years. Our proposal successfully passed through the 8th Assembly Senate.

With newly appointed policymakers in the 9th Assembly, we’re engaging with the House of Representatives to regain momentum on this amendment of the UBE Act.

Stakeholders need to understand that it is critical for every girl and boy to have 12 years of education, because it is the best investment towards reducing poverty, strengthening communities, and building trust.

Habiba Mohammed
Habiba Mohammed is a teacher and the Co-director and Team leader of Center for Girls’ Education, Population and Reproductive Health Initiative in Kaduna state, Northern Nigeria.
Tolu Onibokun/Malala Fund

We have to ensure that the 12 years in school is a worthwhile 12 years.

Children must learn and teachers must update their teaching methods to keep children engaged in learning.

Empowering girls affected by conflict and violence

In my work with the Center for Girls’ Education, we support organizations that work directly with communities affected by violence. In Borno state, our support includes training mentors and training staff on how to recruit girls and engage with community and religious leaders.

Some of our safe spaces programs offer trauma counselling. We discuss issues of reproductive health and gender-based violence so that girls understand that they have a right to their bodies and that education is critical and empowers them to make decisions in all areas of their lives.

We also do a lot of work with religious and community leaders. We inform them about safe spaces programs and encourage them to bring in their own children. When members of the community see the children of their traditional and religious leaders participating in the programs, they are motivated to let their own children participate.

Attacks on girls’ education and security issues

The traumatic experience of the abduction of school girls by Boko Haram in 2014 is still a big scar for Nigeria. While some girls have been rescued and have gone back to school, others are still held hostage.

Kidnapping and Boko Haram attacks are still a silent issue. For example, in Maiduguri state, only Maiduguri town is free of kidnapping. In other areas, Boko Haram attacks are still killing teachers and destroying schools.

In Borno state, the Government has called a state of emergency. Stopping groups like Boko Haram for good requires the combined efforts of all states and the Federal Government.

The Government should ensure that every girl is in school, wherever she is, whether she is in a rural or hard to reach community, in a camp for displaced persons or in a community affected by conflict. The Government must ensure that appropriate facilities are available for the girls to learn in a comfortable environment so the girls know that their safety is a priority.

All actors must take their responsibilities

The Government cannot do it alone. When we all come together – CSOs, parents, girls and the Government – we will be able to create the momentum that will make this happen.

In the work I do, I see that most of the girls don’t know what they want until they start learning and start to see the possibilities. Then, they see their potential and think “I can do this!”. That motivates them to want to learn more.

In our safe spaces program, some girls couldn’t read or write after six years of primary school. But after participating in the program, many now pursue further education, in universities and in colleges of education.

When girls are educated, they become productive members of the community, and they support their country and communities in many ways – including economically.

The power of women, if the Government supports it, can be the power of Government too.

We need to work together, not in silos. When all groups involved can learn from each other and lean on each other, it forms a collective approach that can achieve much more than we can individually.

The challenge of the 10.5 million out-of-school girls in Nigeria cannot be solved individually, but if it is a collective effort, we can do it!

Silencing the guns in Nigeria

To me, ‘silencing the guns’ means no Boko Haram in Nigeria. It means no more conflict in all other African countries.

Silencing means peaceful coexistence all around and accepting one another. I think the African Union should advocate for 12 years of schooling for every girl, no matter where she is, and provide a gender-responsive curriculum to support that movement. African leaders should also ensure more and better financing for education.

Any country without quality education is a poor country.

Education is key for any country to progress. Without education, we cannot achieve good health, a prosperous economy or safe communities. Investing in education — and girls’ education in particular — is key for every country in Africa.

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Gender equality
Sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria

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This is a brilliant presentation. We cannot agree any less with Habiba's articulate position connecting education for girls, lasting peace and all-round family and national development. Her work is deeply appreciated

This was a beautifully written, insightful, and inspiring blog post. When broken down and explained, the connection between girls education and peaceful countries is so obvious. When reading this post, the process of empowering girls really stuck with me. In school, girls are able to realize their potential and become excited about their future possibilities. As we face a global pandemic around the world, I'm thinking about the importance of community for such empowerment to occur. In times like this, when groups of people can't physically come together and isolation or "social distancing" is the only option, what does empowerment in girl education look like? With leaders like Habiba, we are slowly starting to enlighten world leaders and create the changes we need to see in the world. Hopefully, this message will continue to spread and evolve as we face new challenges throughout the world. Thank you so much for sharing.

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