No future for our vulnerable girls unless guns are silenced

Following the African Union Summit under the theme "Silencing our guns", what should African countries do to ensure the most vulnerable to violence, women and girls, get the support they need to thrive?

March 08, 2020 by Rita Bissoonauth, African Union International Center for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa
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4 minute read
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Group photo of the 4th High Level Dialogue on Education and Gender Equality
Group photo of the 4th High Level Dialogue on Education and Gender Equality
African Union Commission

As we commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD), we ask: Where does Africa stand in ensuring that investments in education, particularly for girls, create conditions for peace?

Conflict still constitutes one of Africa’s most significant challenges at the beginning of this new decade. The rise of extremism and conflicts over natural resources are fuelling instability. This in turn undermines the development process in Africa. And education, one of the pillars of progress, is severely affected.

The effects of conflicts are highest for women and girls

In times of conflict, education is on the front line. Everyone is affected, but especially women and girls. They are already marginalized by cultural and social burdens. Girls are two and a half times more likely to be out of school when they live in conflict-affected countries, and adolescent girls are nearly 90% more likely to be out of secondary school (Global Education Monitoring Report, 2018)

In a context where our societies are still struggling to restore human rights for girls and women, the outbreak of a conflict combined with the structural marginalization of women in communities can only become an explosive cocktail for the future of Africa.

Fully aware of the urgent need to ensure continuity of education in emergencies for girls and boys, African leaders and partners came together in Addis Ababa last month to look for sustainable solutions during the 4th High-Level Dialogue on Gender Equality and Education.

Under the theme "Silencing the Guns to ensure Safe Schools and Learning Outcomes for Girls and Women's and for Africa's development", African Union Member States, development partners and civil society organizations seized the opportunity to highlight the need to secure schools and ensure access and retention in education systems for girls and young women, especially in conflict and fragility contexts.

The President of Ethiopia, H.E Sahle-Work Zewde, highlighted that schools are often the first to close but last to reopen if they ever do.

"Very often, what was considered at the beginning as a temporary break often becomes a permanent one. […] Schools should be safe and happy places where young girls and boys can benefit from a quality education.”

H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde

Education must be protected against conflicts

One proposed solution to secure education for girls and young women is the adoption and implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration, the inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities from the worst effects of armed conflicts.

To date, only 27 African countries have endorsed the Declaration. Meeting participants acknowledged that, once the Declaration is endorsed by all African countries, it will help promote a “safe and conflict-sensitive” education taking into account the reality of girls’ education in these situations.

This is vital for Africa because a prosperous and sustainable future is not possible without peace and education. In this regard, the African Union Commission recommends that actors work together to achieve quicker and better results. The African Union leadership hailed the collaboration with partners, such as the Global Partnership for Education, Norway, Canada, Save the Children, UNICEF and UNESCO and reiterated the AU commitment to working with them to sow the seeds of peace through girls’ education in Africa.

Opportunities offered by these partners can go a long way in securing learning outcomes for girls in conflict situations, such as the accelerated support in emergency and early recovery situations, a funding mechanism established by GPE to address the rapid funding needed for education in countries experiencing humanitarian emergencies. This funding will unlock up to US$250 million to address the needs of refugees, displaced populations and host communities and create resilient education systems that can respond to emergencies.

Incentivizing action for girls’ education

To accelerate the objective of better access and learning outcomes for girls, participants suggested that there is a need to put in place incentive policies. Some of these policies may include free secondary education, appropriate school infrastructure, alternative education programs, substantial budget allocation, gender-responsive programs and curricula, or access to information and communication technologies in remote areas.

As the President of Ethiopia said: “there is an urgent need to develop alternative education methods to avoid “education gaps” that can be very harmful for girls and other children in emergency situations”.

To also echo Julia Gillard’s Op-ed in the UK Telegraph: “Ensuring every girl receives a quality education will reap dividends for the safety, security and prosperity of all of us, and for the next generations…the swiss army knife to solving a multitude of the world's problems.

It's clear from the statements of these two formidable female leaders that Africa is not alone in the challenges it faces. The AUC is working with its friends to advance the girls’ education and gender equality agenda to redress imbalances.

Because as we all know, educated and empowered girls are a powerful protection from threats confronting the continent now and in the future. Hence the need to silence guns towards a generation that which makes women's rights a precondition for an equitable society.

On this International Women’s Day, it is high time for all of us to stand up and claim our rights, make our voices clearer and louder, “enough is enough”.

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Gender equality
Sub-Saharan Africa

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