Three approaches to gender equality through education
Globally, 15 million girls of primary school age will never learn to read or write compared to about 10 million boys, according to UN Women.
In addition, two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are female, and girls are still more likely than boys never to enter primary school, according to UNESCO.
Three organisations, among many others, are attempting to change this, each using a different approach. The Girl Child Project addresses it at country level; Plan International adopts a “holistic approach”; and the Global Partnership for Education works to change government policy.
15 million primary school age girls are out of school worldwide, including 9 million in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo © Albert González Farran/UNAMID
We spoke to all three about their insights and recommendations on the long-term solutions needed to ensure gender equality in education:
Ousmae Ba introducing the Girl Child Project at the European Development Days 2018 in Brussels:
The Girl Child Project is an initiative by Guinean-born Ousmane Ba, who became an advocate for women’s education after realising how much his own mother struggled in life, having never completed school.
The project raises awareness about girls’ education in Guinea, where half of all girls do not have access to quality education. It has secured funding to sponsor 247 girls through primary and secondary school, mentoring them along the way, and providing advice and infrastructure for follow-up, when they finish.
The project’s strength is its grounding in local communities, so girls get local support to continue, and local leaders see the benefits for the community of having an educated young woman in its midst.
Ousmane Ba on the inspiration for the Girl Child Project (in French with English subtitles)
Ba realises that he also has to fight against male prejudice, especially the fathers and brothers, who often don’t believe girls should be educated. So, he has created the Co-exist Programme, to train men and boys to be champions for girls’ education.
There are now 56 male ambassadors from local communities, who advocate for girls’ education with community leaders and local government officers.
Ba explained that a major barrier to education is civil conflict, something he experienced first-hand. He and his family had to flee Sierra Leone, where he was born, because his village was destroyed in the fighting.
Rotimy Djossaya moderating a panel on gender equality and education at the European Development Days 2018 in Brussels:
Rotimy Djossaya, Plan International’s West and Central African Director, said his organisation adopts a holistic approach to fulfil its ambitious plans to “reach a hundred million girls”.
He emphasised that education is key to realising gender equality. However, barriers, such as safety, sexual hygiene and reproductive health, often prevent girls from attending school. Even if they can go, Djossaya said, many still face obstacles, like lack of sanitary towels and harassment at and on their way to school.
To ensure equal outcomes for girls and boys, Plan International has created the programme Champions of Change that brings together girls and boys, to interact and understand the implications of their behaviour and prejudices on achieving gender equality.
Rotimy Djossaya on the holistic approach to gender equality and education:
The programme’s various modules encourage girls to be drivers of change and hands them tools through which they can shape their own environment. Boys, meanwhile, get to do exercises and have exchanges on how they can play a role in their communities to ensure girls and boys get the same treatment and opportunities, making them part of the solution.
One example of the programme’s success, is Uganda’s School Menstrual Club, where boys and girls sew sanitary towels.
Like the Girl Child Project, Plan International recognises the importance of involving the local community, working with parents and community leaders to collaboratively contribute to unlocking girl’s power. Forced marriage at a young age is among the main reasons why girls are unable to complete secondary school. Through its 18+ programme, Plan International aims to tackle child, early, and forced marriage.
Civil conflict is also an important barrier for accessing education, said Djossaya. This is for example the case in the countries surrounding the Lake Chad Basin, where Plan International has linked its development work with its humanitarian activities to support the community.
The Global Partnership for Education’s approach differs from Plan International and the Girl Child Project in that it works at government level to influence policy on girls’ education.
Alice Albright, the Chief Executive Officer, described how the organisation partners with 65 of the world’s lowest-income countries to deliver more equitable, quality education; more gender equality in education; and effective and efficient education systems.
Alice Albright on Global Partnership for Education’s focus and country examples:
Gender is a constant thread running through them all these aims. The approach has improved girls’ attendance rates at countries as different as Afghanistan and Ghana – in both countries girls’ enrolment has greatly improved.
The Partnership monitors governments’ education plans to help improve delivery, evaluates its gender approach and analyses elements such as ensuring there is adequate finance for teaching staff and text books.
Secondly, it incentivises governments by providing funding, and Albright said that as one of the largest funders of basic education, the Partnership has raised $2.3 billion, part of which will be used to get governments to focus on gender.
Lastly, the Partnership is mobilising finance by attracting new donors, asking traditional donors to give more, and advocating governments increase their funding on education.
While mainly concentrating on immediate educational issues, the Partnership has, for example, encouraged Sierra Leone to increase girls’ school attendance by providing facilities for girls to manage their menstrual periods.