Learning from partners to advance education opportunities for marginalized girls

UK’s Girls’ Education Challenge has collected evidence on gender inequality and inclusion from key interventions in partner countries and synthesized it into learning briefs. The first two briefs are out and this blog presents the key takeaways.

March 27, 2023 by Emma Sarton, Cambridge Education
4 minutes read
Students in class at the Monze Primary School, Zambia. May 2017. Credit: GPE/Alexandra Humme
Students in class at the Monze Primary School, Zambia.
Credit: GPE/Alexandra Humme

To mark the month of International Women’s Day, GPE is pleased to launch a series of blogs focusing on how the partnership is advancing gender equality to, within education and through education. This the second blog in our series.

In 2012, the UK government launched the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC), a 12-year commitment to reach the most marginalized girls in the world.

It is the largest global fund dedicated to girls’ education, investing GBP 855 million over 12 years, and is committed to improving the educational opportunities of 1.6 million girls in some of the poorest countries, including girls who have disabilities or are at risk of being left behind.

Evidence and learning are at the heart of the GEC’s design. The GEC is working with the Global Partnership of Education (GPE) to support an evidence-based approach to policies and programming addressing gender inequalities that prevent marginalized girls from accessing education and realizing their full potential.

What are we learning and who does it help?

To capitalize on its portfolio of 41 projects across 17 countries, the Girls’ Education Challenge has collated and synthesized learning from key interventions through a lens of gender and inclusion inequality – the Learning Brief series.

While these briefs are rooted in quantitative and qualitative evidence, they are not research papers. They provide a synthesis of learning from GEC intervention designs and implementation approaches to support decision makers in policy and implementation choices.

To date the learning briefs have supported the dialogue around identifying priority reforms and related activities in Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), by ensuring that the activities are based on contextually relevant evidence.

The briefs are also well received by the wider education ecosystem and are supporting further research and learning.

The first two briefs are out – School related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and Girls’ Clubs and 11 more are due over the next few months.

Example #1: School related gender-based violence

The GEC learning brief on SRGBV has specific insight on the combined impact of gender and marginalization on the lives of the world’s poorest girls.

In lower to middle-income countries, approximately 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to school and up to 10% of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 reported incidences of forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts in the previous year.

These and other forms of violence can significantly impede a girl’s focus, self-esteem and attendance in school, thereby undermining any effort to improve learning. Violence impacts all children but sexually-based violence with the risk of early pregnancy has lifelong implications.

GEC programs have developed three broad interventions:

  1. Strengthening reporting, referral and response systems
  2. Safer environment strategies
  3. Supporting girls’ (and boys) awareness of violence.

GEC projects found that increasing girls’ feelings of safety can be achieved when two of the three interventions are prioritized: strengthening reporting systems and increasing girls’ awareness of intervention reporting systems and not just their awareness of violence.

Moreover, focusing solely on safer environments interventions, such as shifting attitudes and behaviors of teachers, can also have a positive effect on learning, as this can result in immediate reductions of corporal punishment in class (this works only when alternative ways of maintaining discipline in a classroom are discussed with teachers) or teacher-perpetrated sexual harassment.

This finding validates the notion that any substantive effort to prevent SRGBV, especially when designed and implemented well, will contribute to girls feeling safe at school and thus form the foundation for girls’ focus, attendance and motivation for learning.

That said, it should be noted that eliminating SRGBV is not sufficient on its own to raise learning outcomes. Strong pedagogy, curricula and materials, among other factors, are imperative for this.

The learning briefs series is also keen to shine a light on what is less effective (failing to build in time into training sessions for teachers so they can practice positive discipline skills or strategies they are trained on), does not work (projects that set up helplines entirely dependent on project staff and funding) and in some cases can be harmful (putting a suggestion box in schools is not always a safe or anonymous way to report violence. Explicit instructions to place boxes in a discreet location is necessary, along with multiple ways of reporting.)

Example #2: Girls’ clubs

The evidence that girls’ clubs support wellbeing and empowerment- is fairly robust. Overall, the girl-focused approach adopted by GEC projects drives the active development of girls’ agency as a core element.

Most projects then also work beyond the level of the girl herself through other efforts that explicitly tackle structural inequalities to effect sustainable change.

Across the GEC, many programs include work with some form of girls’ clubs to promote girls’ wellbeing and help them understand and cope with physical and emotional changes.

Most girls’ clubs are facilitated by a female mentor or peer leader who has received additional training – and most have a ‘curriculum’ structured around interactive discussion as opposed to teacher-centered delivery of content.

Over 90% of clubs meet in a girl-only space, typically a school or community space for out-of-school girls, with many schools offering boys’ clubs in parallel. When clubs are operating in parallel, it strengthens the impact as content designed for boys can open up a space to discuss positive masculinities and gender.

GEC project evaluations show that girls’ clubs positively influence the following areas:

  1. Self-confidence and self-efficacy
  2. Levels of knowledge around key issues affecting their education
  3. Aspirations and awareness of their rights
  4. Attitudes towards gender equality
  5. School retention and attendance
  6. Transition into successive grades or paid employment.

Visit the Girls’ Education Challenge website.


Read other blogs in this series.

United Kingdom

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I really admire UK's commitment in supporting and advancing educational opportunities for marginalized girls around the world!

My organization also prioritizes girls education and empowerment including mothers/women to achieve their potentials and dreams.

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