Resourcing girls’ education: Where exactly should the money go?

To achieve SDG 4, we must not only focus on access to girls’ education but more importantly ensure that girls remain in school, develop as learners, and are able to transition to employment or further education.

July 08, 2021 by Margaret Butler, Amplify Girls, and Anika Jane, Amplify Girls
6 minutes read
Girls in class at Makamba Primary School in Uganda. November 2017. Credit: GPE/Livia Barton
Girls in class at Makamba Primary School in Uganda. November 2017.
GPE/Livia Barton

Girls’ education is globally recognized as the key to achieving gender equality, however it is not a silver bullet. The Education 2030 Agenda recognizes that gender equality requires an approach that ‘ensures that girls and boys, women and men not only gain access to and complete education cycles, but are empowered equally in and through education.’

To achieve SDG 4, we must not only focus on access to girls’ education but more importantly ensure that girls remain in school, develop as learners, and are able to transition to employment or further education.

For this to happen, young women require support outside of the education system, which requires increased financing for the systems and structures that support girls’ education.

A study of adolescent girls in 4 countries

In October 2020, AMPLIFY launched a four-country study in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda that focused on adolescent girls and community-driven organizations. The study aims to understand the barriers adolescent girls face when returning to school post COVID-19 and ways to overcome those barriers.

This research provides an in-depth assessment at community level of the barriers that threaten to curtail the education of adolescent girls while collating regional evidence on best-practice interventions.

At the highest level, our findings indicate that girls’ experiences of the pandemic are multi-faceted, multi-layered and precipitate acute feelings of isolation, fear and hopelessness about the future.

The overwhelming majority of pregnant girls in the study reported becoming pregnant after engaging in transactional sex for basic goods —
primarily basic needs.

61% of mentions of transactional sex reported sex for food, clothing, soap or lotion; 19% for menstrual hygiene products; 9% for other goods like sweets, school fees, or luxury clothing items; 6% for cellphones or other technology; and 5% as result of ‘peer pressure.’

Accordingly, the most common pathway leading to girls’ dropout begins with a girls’ lack of basic needs goods, which pushed girls into sexually exploitative relationships with men who promised them money or goods, ultimately ending with unintended pregnancies.

Girls are also experiencing protracted trauma during the pandemic that is much larger and more long lasting than the period of school closures. The daily experience of violence, acute poverty, stress, anxiety, stigmatization and insecurity has served to deteriorate girls’ psychological and emotional health, making school return unlikely without sustained and holistic care for multiple facets of their wellbeing.

Additionally, across the study cohort, girls reported that pregnancy was a determinant experience in their lives and future plans. The stigmatization, isolation, anxiety and violence that pregnant girls faced made it impossible for them to return to school and served to augment their experiences of other economic, social and personal barriers that were common across the study population.

5 types of barriers to girls’ return to school

We categorize the barriers to school return as follows:

  • Physical barriers: relocation and/or displacement, including unequal access to remote learning technologies and unsupportive learning environments.
  • Economic barriers: pressure to earn income, loss of guardian, food insecurity, and/or lack of financial resources for school materials and costs.
  • Health barriers: including pregnancy, but most especially girls’ experience of both physical and sexual violence, early marriage, in addition to lack of access to basic health services, sexual and reproductive health information or resources.
  • Social barriers: hostile home environments and toxic school culture (for pregnant girls), negative peer pressure and increased home responsibilities.
  • Personal barriers: loss of hope, fears and anxieties about not returning to school; lack of scholastic confidence should they return; lack of technical skills; and deep sense of insecurity in themselves and their potential.
Ivon Rubendefiele, 19, is a first year student in Electrical Installation at the Mpanda VETA (Vocational Education and Training Authority). Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Ivon Rubendefiele, 19, is a first year student in Electrical Installation at the Mpanda VETA (Vocational Education and Training Authority). Though she made excellent marks in Secondary School and could have gone on to university, Ivon decided to go to her local VETA instead. Tanzania, August 2019
GPE/Kelley Lynch

Girls know the solutions they need

To address these barriers, girls offered many important solutions and potential policies that could support their continued learning. Common features of these recommendations were their holistic nature and their deep care for the social and emotional aspects of girls’ wellbeing.

It is not enough for governments to declare that girls must go back to school. They must invest in systems that enable girls’ re-entry to school and we must listen to their recommendations to stem dropout and return girls to school:

  1. Provide material resources and alleviate economic vulnerability

    Economic support in the form of basic goods or school-related costs emerged as a cross-cutting recommendation by girls in all four countries. Increasing economic precarity was found to be driving forms of sexual abuse and exploitation leading to unintended pregnancies.

  2. Offer pathways for pregnant girls and young mothers to continue and complete their education

    Given the high rates of teen pregnancy, girls felt it was urgent to provide young mothers and pregnant teens with options for continued learning. Recommendations focused both on returning pregnant girls to school by making schools more ‘girl-friendly,’ as well as providing skills-based learning opportunities such as vocational training and economic empowerment.

  3. Combat the stigmatization of pregnancy and teen-motherhood and that raise awareness about girls’ rights and needs

    Pregnant girls universally felt that going back to learning would be unbearable because of the social stigma associated with pregnancy and teen motherhood. Girls recommended that family members, schools and peers be sensitized about girls’ rights and needs.

  4. Provide psychosocial support, counseling and mentoring

    The recommendation for psychosocial support was universal amongst both pregnant and non-pregnant girls. Pregnant girls felt they needed mentoring and counseling about teen motherhood and encouragement to return to their education. Non-pregnant girls felt counseling and mentorship would help to encourage pregnant girls to return, despite prolonged absences and heightened anxieties.

  5. Establish effective community-based sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) initiatives

    The overwhelming majority of girls reported that schools were the only place they could access information and resources pertaining to their sexual and reproductive health needs. When schools closed, many girls attributed rising pregnancies to the inability to access SRHR information and support. They recommended community-based SRHR counseling, services and supplies in order to prevent future pregnancies.

  6. Make remote learning accessible (no-tech or low tech)

    Very few girls in our study were able to participate meaningfully in remote learning, and felt that prolonged absences from education made school return exceedingly difficult. Girls requested support for accessing remote learning during ongoing and future shutdowns.

Funding community organizations that support girls

In the Global South, many community-driven organizations are the last source of hope and chance at an education.

These organizations provide spaces for daycare; take on cases of gender-based violence, including at school and seek justice on behalf of girls; they protect them from female genital mutilation; and they restore their power and agency through continuous training sessions.

Resourcing in education needs to consider the systems that surround girls outside of schools.

Governments need to map girl-serving community-driven organizations and invest in creating a sustainable partnership for tracking and retaining girls in schools.

Access to education in the Global South is nuanced and multilayered. We feel it is imperative to resource community-driven organizations to support holistic re-entry of girls into public education.

It is impossible for schools to be the catch-all for every child, but there is an opportunity for partnership with community-driven organizations that are addressing the needs of children locally. These organizations understand the local context, have relationships within the communities they serve and can provide the wrap-around services in partnership with schools.

We must develop a multilayered approach towards resourcing girls’ education and listen to what the learners are sharing with us as a global community.

Register for a global discussion on how we can support adolescent girls as they fight for their rights to return to school on July 21, 2021.

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Gender equality
Sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda

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