Safeguarding Her: A call to action to educating girls in vulnerable situations

For millions of girls across Africa, the thought of joining school remains far-fetched. Here are 6 recommendations we consider vital to ensure girls’ better access to education and secure their futures.

July 23, 2021 by Break Free Alliance
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5 minutes read
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A schoolgirl taking notes during a lesson. Bitiw Seye 1 Primary School in Tivaouane, Senegal. Credit: GPE/Chantal Rigaud
A schoolgirl taking notes during a lesson. Bitiw Seye 1 Primary School in Tivaouane, Senegal.
GPE/Chantal Rigaud

When accounting for the most negatively affected populations in unfavorable situations worldwide, children and women are often present in large numbers. Across the globe, women and girls are considered at most risk of economic exclusion, missing education opportunities, facing abuse, sexual exploitation, violence and forced marriage during normal times and even more so during conflict and crises.

Too many girls still miss out on education

UNICEF estimates that around the world 130 million girls are out of school, including 32 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67 million of upper-secondary school age. It is also estimated that twice as many girls are likely to drop out of school in conflict prone countries than in unaffected ones.

Girls are missing out on their education because of various factors, including poverty, child marriage, gender-based violence, conflict, and patriarchal gender norms that often favor boys when investing in education.

Education plays a key role in economic growth in terms of increased productivity, efficiency, improved income and socialization or social integration. When girls miss education, they risk being excluded from lifelong self-actualization including exploring their maximum productivity, social capital, problem solving and intellectual skills.

For millions of girls across Africa, the thought of joining school remains far-fetched. Administrative barriers include gaps in translating commitments to action, selective education budget financing, minimal capacity building initiatives and lack of information decentralization. Moreover, countries haven’t prepared enough to mitigate the effects the pandemic on girls’ opportunities.

Haja Logan (Left), 12, and Mercy Yarqwe, 15, share a desk at Vincent Town Public School (ECD-grade 6) a school that receives the GPE school grant. Vincent Town, Bomi County, Liberia. July 2016. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Haja Logan (Left), 12, and Mercy Yarqwe, 15, share a desk at Vincent Town Public School (ECD-grade 6) a school that receives the GPE school grant. Vincent Town, Bomi County, Liberia. July 2016.

GPE/Kelley Lynch

COVID has exacerbated the issues girls face

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the decades’ long blunt negligence in protecting girls of school-going age. The COVID-related school closures left girls exposed to gender-based violence, with limited choices to continue with their education.

In Malawi the pandemic exacerbated child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe cumulatively registered close to 8,959 teenage pregnancies within the first 5 months of the pandemic.

As world leaders converge virtually and physically for the Global Education Summit next week to pledge their support for global and domestic funding towards education, much is expected in reinforcing their commitment to safeguarding girls’ rights and opportunities for lifelong self-actualization.

Notably, a multi-stakeholder approach to educating girls in vulnerable situations would go a long way in ensuring that none of them is left behind.

These efforts include developing and rolling out effective policies, reflecting on what has worked in key continental and national initiatives, building the capacity of duty bearers to be aware of their required actions, increasing collaboration and partnerships that address the needs of girls.

A schoolgirl from Murape Primary School in Zimbabwe sitting alone in her classroom. November 2016. Credit: GPE/Carine Durand
A schoolgirl from Murape Primary School in Zimbabwe sitting alone in her classroom. November 2016.
GPE/Carine Durand

6 recommendations for girls’ education

Here are 6 recommendations we consider vital to ensure girls’ futures:

  1. Translating global, regional and national commitments to action: Frameworks such as the Beijing +25, Generation Equality commitments, Sustainable Development Goals 4 (Quality Education) and 5 (Gender Equality), the Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children, the Maputo Protocol, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (2016-2025) and the Gender Equality Strategy for the CESA 2016-2025 among others lay out legislative and social economic targets that governments can adopt to effectively meet the demands of school going age children. What’s needed is establishing structures from global to grassroots levels that accommodate the proposed obligations including increasing awareness of duty bearers’ role in the realization of children rights and constant monitoring and reporting on the progress of their implementation. It is equally important to invest in removing or mitigating the source or cause of vulnerability.
  2. Adopting and being accountable for effective gender-responsive policies: Policies targeting gender equality in education, elimination of violence in and around schools, free school feeding, proper management of menstrual hygiene needs, sexual reproductive health rights, competency based curricula, education in emergencies, and education for children with disabilities may foster reduction of school exclusion cases especially in countries where girls enrollment, retention and transition rates remain low. Policies must also ensure reentry for girls who have dropped out due to teenage pregnancy and child marriage. The role of parliaments must be increased, as well as that of independent human rights institutions and special mandate holders for monitoring and accountability.
  3. Building a resilient education system: While unexpected pandemics may affect progress in educating girls, it is imperative that risk assessments and rapid response activities are ingrained in education sector plans and initiatives to guarantee governments’ preparedness in handling crises. Furthermore, consultations with education sector stakeholders can periodically build on good practices on girls’ education in emergencies.
  4. Investing in girl-led and feminist movements: Effective short- and long-term solutions to girls’ barriers to education lie in the deliberate involvement of girls at all stages of decision-making processes about their lives. Be it continental and global fora, reserve seats for girls. There is a need to empower them to be change agents against the oppressive narrative that labels them as hopeless and voiceless. Encouraging girls to speak out, be aware of their options and report to trusted authorities whenever faced with pressing issues can cultivate girls’ agency. Furthermore, education stakeholders need to invest in community schools and national girls’ clubs that help mold girls’ confidence, self-awareness, attitude change and problem-solving skills.
  5. Periodical gathering of gender-disaggregated data on girls in vulnerable situations: We need gender data on school age children including citizenship, socio-economic status, geographical locations, exposure to violence and neglect. This would enable governments to accurately plan interventions to address the identified needs. We need to invest in community-led research in collaboration with academic institutions and documenting stories of significant change and social, cultural innovation that advance education in vulnerable contexts.
  6. Add gender responsiveness in cross-cutting sectoral budgets: All sectoral budgets need to show clear financing of interventions targeting inclusiveness and long-term sustainability right from the design review and through roll out and monitoring stages.
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This are clearly laid out recommendatios for girls education that are achievable if govt commit themselves through provision of resources and accountability mechanisms of monitoring expenditure

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