Education for Afghan GirlsThe School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) is the first and only Afghan-led boarding school for Afghan girls, founded in 2008. While initially established in Kabul, Afghanistan, since the Taliban takeover, the school now operates in Rwanda. SOLA prioritizes education for Afghan girls amid Afghanistan’s instability.

Girls’ Education in Afghanistan

Historically, girls and women in Afghanistan have faced barriers to accessing education. The problem first began in 1992, after the fall of the Communist regime in Afghanistan. The Taliban seized control and immediately began to cut back educational opportunities for women.

In 2001, a U.S.-led invasion overthrew the Taliban, removing the group from power. From 2001 to 2018, nearly every statistic pointed to an improved system. School enrollment rose from 1 million to 10 million students, the number of teachers rose by almost 60% and the female literacy rate increased almost twofold from 17% to 30%. In particular, the number of girls in primary school increased from “almost zero in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2018,” UNESCO says. Furthermore, the number of Afghan girls enrolled in higher education rose from about 5,000 in 2001 to around 90,000 in 2018.

Before the Taliban seized power for a second time, the outlook for educational opportunities for girls was a positive one. As the Taliban did when it first came to power, the group began to reduce educational opportunities for women once again. According to UNESCO, 30% of Afghan girls have never taken part in primary education. In December 2022, the Taliban suspended women’s tertiary education, impacting more than 100,000 girls and women.

How SOLA Makes an Impact

The School of Leadership, Afghanistan welcomed its first inaugural class of girls in 2016. SOLA and its founder Shabana Basij-Rasikh continue to pave the way for the education of Afghan girls despite the seemingly grim outlook. According to SOLA’s website, it took merely four days for the school to move from Kabul to Rwanda after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Classes continued and Afghan girls from around the world come to SOLA to learn with a student population totaling well over 100 girls between 6th and 12th grades. While SOLA is only a small school, it is making a significant impact on the education of Afghan girls. SOLA is a beacon of hope for young Afghan women hoping to access education.

SOLA covers a variety of curricula for its students. All main classes are taught in English, which allows students to develop their language skills while learning geography, math, science and history. The school also teaches courses on the Quran, ensuring that the girls can maintain their religious background and beliefs while developing a secular education. SOLA even makes some sports, like swimming, available to the students.

The importance of formal education for Afghan girls cannot be understated. For Afghan girls who cannot come to SOLA, SOLA’s website says, “we will find opportunities to bring SOLA to them. We will work to build a global network of sisterhood between these girls and our SOLA students and alumnae and we will nurture and support the members of this sisterhood who will be well-prepared to return to Afghanistan and rebuild their homeland.”

Moving Forward

SOLA’s vision is to “educate Afghan girls: to create a leadership generation of women who will one day return home to Afghanistan and rebuild all that the Taliban have destroyed. What began in Kabul continues now in Rwanda,” its website says.

The history of educational opportunities for Afghan women is complex. SOLA aims to ensure that young Afghan girls have a chance at a bright future by continuing their education outside of war-torn Afghanistan.

– Ezra Bernstein
Photo: Flickr

Girls in Africa
On July 18, 2022, the leaders of 11 sub-Saharan African countries officially announced the launch of the Education Plus initiative, marking a significant stride forward for girls’ education and the empowerment of women. At a recent summit meeting of the Africa Union in Zambia, these leaders expressed and guaranteed their support. Ultimately, the initiative empowers girls in Africa by promoting education for women in hopes that this increased access to education will mitigate HIV/AIDS in the region.

HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa

Unfortunately, the stigma around HIV in Africa creates social barriers that impede an infected person’s access to treatment. Historically vulnerable populations, which typically include those who live in countries where HIV is a major epidemic, consistently struggle to access treatment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), The HIV epidemic most affects the WHO Africa Region.

About 25.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have HIV infections, according to SOS Children’s Villages. However, populations in Africa face structural barriers “that increase their vulnerability to HIV and impede their access to prevention, testing and treatment” resources, according to the WHO. This includes “laws that criminalize their behavior, stigma, discrimination and violence.”

The Impact of COVID-19 on Girls in Africa

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced almost 20 million girls out of school in low and middle-income nations. In particular, sub-Saharan Africa noted a high rate of out-of-school female students, even before the onset of the pandemic. Though in some countries, like Ghana, many students re-enrolled in school, girls accounted for the majority of the students who did not re-enroll.

The financial strain of the pandemic meant many families could not afford the costs of education and the gendered norm of females bearing the burden of household chores and caretaking also prevented girls from re-enrolling. The COVID-19 pandemic also increased the risk of HIV/AIDS. The Education Plus initiative will strive to protect the inherent rights of adolescent girls and women to feel safe, maintain good health and have access to education.

Reducing HIV Prevalence

The Education Plus initiative’s primary purpose is to help end Africa’s HIV pandemic. Helping girls stay in secondary school and teaching essential life skills is crucial to achieving this. According to several studies, an adolescent female who completes her secondary education is 50% less likely to contract HIV. Additionally, a combination of this emphasis on education with additional services that empower women can further decrease this risk.

The Education Plus initiative especially advocates for cost-free high school education for both males and females in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. In addition, the initiative calls for schools to incorporate “comprehensive sexual education” into their curriculums. The initiative calls further for protection from gender-based violence and programs that help students make the transition from school to the work environment, among other priorities.

The Importance of Education for Girls in Africa

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema stressed the importance of learning, stating that education is “the greatest equalizer” and that “with appropriate education, everyone receives the opportunity to explore their full potential and be able to participate in the development process.” This also means that people have better access to jobs, which will alleviate poverty and reduce HIV risks in vulnerable environments.

At the Africa Union Summit, leaders highlighted the necessity of promoting women’s rights, especially in such a way that would help combat gender-based discrimination and violence. Member states of the Africa Union hope that implementing the Education Plus initiative will help combat HIV/AIDS. According to the World Bank, educated females are more knowledgeable about nutrition and health care, enter marital unions later in life, have healthier children and “are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes.”

The countries involved in the initiative are Benin, Cameroon, Eswatini, Gabon, Gambia, Lesotho, Malawi, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda. The initiative will run till 2025 and five U.N. agencies lead it: UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF and U.N. Women. Empowering young women and reducing gender equality is a key strategy to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

Specifically, the initiative will encourage government-level decision-makers to prioritize health and education policies that place women at the forefront. Additionally, it will pressure governments to provide universal and free secondary education for their citizens. Completion of secondary education, which is an even more urgent concern in the wake of the COVID pandemic, will ultimately reduce the risk of HIV by as much as half in some countries.

Looking Ahead

This rights-based initiative is essential because it responds to gender-based abuses and inequalities. It will ensure that adolescent girls and young women have equal access to an education that will benefit them in many ways — reducing the risk of domestic abuse, promoting good health and establishing financial stability, among other advantages. Leaders hope that this will make the promise of gender equality a reality while also addressing a significant epidemic.

– Shiloh Harrill
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education In Niger
Niger, a country of 25 million people located in landlocked West Africa, is amid a wide-scale education crisis. Extreme poverty, unsafe schools, low-quality education, border conflicts, risk of sexual harassment and conservative gender norms significantly impact girls’ education in Niger. However, investing in the improvement of Nigerien girls’ education could improve the economy, create safer societies, increase women’s literacy rates, reduce child marriage and minimize conflicts, among many more benefits.

Nigerien Education Crisis

Niger currently lies at the bottom of the Girls’ Opportunity Index and is one of the most difficult countries for a girl to receive a full 12 years of education. Girls often have to travel long distances to get to school and face a significant risk of sexual harassment along the way. Another barrier to girls’ education in Niger is strict gender norms, including expectations that women solely participate in childcare, cooking and obtaining water from wells. Only 14% of women are literate in comparison to 42% of men. Improved girls’ education in Niger could have prominent social and economic impacts.

Benefits of Girls’ Education in Niger

  1. Women Gain More Economic Power: Nigerien women who have had an education have more control over their economic decisions. Experts determine that education for women can lead to a 0.3% increase in a country’s GDP. Additionally, with only one extra year of education, women’s earnings can increase by 20%. Women also have more power to make decisions on farms if they have higher education levels. Niger’s economy is primarily centered around agriculture, so this power to make agriculture-related decisions is advantageous for women individually as well as the country’s economy as a whole.
  2. Lower Rates of Child Marriage: About 75% of girls in Niger marry by the time they reach 15 years old and 45% of girls become pregnant by the age of 18. Girls who receive an education are less likely to enter into child marriage and become pregnant through force. Education gives young girls more opportunities while establishing independence and self-sufficiency in addition to providing knowledge to make informed decisions.
  3. Health Improvements: A child is 50% more likely to live past 5 years old if the child’s mother obtained a higher education. Additionally, the child has twice the potential of attending school themselves and a 50% higher chance of receiving vaccinations. Educated mothers also have more potential of having a say over when they will have children and how many children they will have. This demonstrates how girls’ education can contribute to the general improvement of people’s health and the well-being of the future generation.

Improvements in Girls Education

President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum has made girls’ education a primary focus of his mandate so that the country can reap the abundant benefits of girls’ education in Niger. President Bazoum recognizes that education is critical for the future of Niger and plans to focus on developing the education sector for the well-being of the nation’s young girls. He has committed to increasing Niger’s education budget to 22% by 2024. He has also promised to establish more schools and school dormitories so that fewer girls need to embark on risky journeys to get to their schools. Lastly, Bazoum has implemented a ‘zero straw-hut schools’ initiative, which will facilitate the building of better quality school infrastructure to improve the teaching environment.

Improving girls’ education will provide economic, social and health advantages, which will enhance the quality of life in Niger. The benefits of girls’ education in Niger stand to serve not just women but the entire population and should undergo implementation imminently.

– Isabella Elmasry
Photo: Flickr

Study Hall Educational Foundation
Numerous studies have indicated a strong association between poverty and education. Out-of-school rates are the highest in poor countries such as India. Poverty and a lack of education have an inextricable connection, creating a vicious cycle difficult to escape. Illiteracy and lack of schooling keep young people from obtaining better-paying jobs as adults, making it near impossible to ever rise up from poverty. In low-income countries, girls are more likely to withdraw from school — or never attend — than boys. However, the organization, Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF), is transforming the lives of girls in India.

Daughters Cannot Attend School

There are several reasons why many girls in India do not have access to education. In rural areas, even if school is free, parents must pay for books and transportation. Parents typically believe educating girls is a waste of money, and would rather have them contribute to family income.

Often, girls stay home to look after younger siblings. Additionally, many end up in early marriages as soon as they reach puberty against their will. These factors could explain why the literacy rate for males 15 and older in India is above 82%, while for girls and women, it is barely 66%. Yet just one extra year of schooling can increase a woman’s earnings by up to 10%, thereby helping to raise her out of poverty.

Help for Girls in India

A nonprofit organization is working to change these daunting statistics. Study Hall Educational Foundation has a history of transforming the lives of Indian girls. Through a network of model schools and outreach programs, it promotes girls’ rights, enabling their access to schooling. Foundation administrators believe a lack of education directly affects a girl’s future ability to earn good wages and to escape poverty.

Urvashi Sahni, Study Hall’s founder, is an activist who became married as a teenager. She had two daughters by her early 20s, and later lost her sister tragically — burned to death over a dowry dispute. It was that anger and frustration that inspired Sahni to found Study Hall. Her work to promote gender equality and education has impacted more than 5 million children, according to the Foundation.

A prime example of Study Hall’s pioneering work is the Prerna Girls School in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Founded in 2003, its enrollment has grown to more than 1,000, providing accessible and affordable education to girls from marginalized, low-income communities — most of whom would not have the opportunity to study otherwise. Many of the girls come from local slums, working as domestic help for neighbors. Although many also come from abusive homes, that fact has not abated their excitement to study and eventually join the professional workforce.

From Slums to Orchards

Another Study Hall program is GyanSetu — or Bridge of Learning — a network of support centers operating from small huts in slums and rural mango orchards. Children attend an accelerated learning program before enrolling in formal schools while continuing to receive supplementary education and support.

Increasing schooling among those 15 or older by just two years would allow nearly 60 million to rise out of poverty, according to UNESCO. That has a better chance of happening thanks to programs like those administered by Study Hall Educational Foundation, helping Indian girls have a better life.

– Sarah Betuel
Photo: Hippopx

Pearls Africa Foundation
Nigerian female programmer Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin’s love for computers led her to a life’s mission to help lift girls out of poverty through science, technology, engineering and math by teaching them how to code. Ajayi-Akinfolarin founded the Pearls Africa Foundation, which provides more than technological skills, giving girls tools to become financially independent.

About Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin

After graduating from the University of Lagos, Ajayi-Akinfolarin founded the Pearls Africa Foundation in 2012, leaving her job to dedicate all her time to the Foundation. a statistic indicating that less than 8% of Nigerian women had professional, managerial or technological jobs, a staggeringly low number, drove her to establish the Foundation. She wanted to give women and girls the opportunity to acquire the skills to change that statistic and lift themselves out of poverty. In 2018, she earned the title of CNN Hero of the Year in acknowledgment of her efforts.

The Girls and Women of Makoko

Lagos, Nigeria, has a thriving economy of oil, finance and manufacturing, however, the world’s largest “floating slum,” Makoko, is on a lagoon in the city within which 250,000 people live. The slum city rests on stilts and its residents use canoes for transport. Gentrification led to the displacement of some members of the slum community until many deemed it unconstitutional. Most people in Makoko, including women and girls, do not have access to regular food, water, electricity or education. Drawing inspiration from the aim of helping the girls of Makoko, Ajayi-Akinfolarin began the Pearls Africa Foundation.

Pearls Africa Foundation Programs

The Pearls Africa Foundation has 10 different programs to help girls learn to code, keep them safe and secure and prepare them for educational and career-oriented opportunities. The flagship program of the Pearls Africa Foundation is Girls Coding, which provides underserved girls with an education in computer programming and coding, including courses such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Python. This training prepares the girls to compete for STEM jobs and achieve financial independence.

Similar programs are Lady Labs, which teaches basic IT and technology skills and provides IT experience. Empowered Hands provides vocational training such as bead-making, fashion designing, hair styling, Aso-oke weaving and more. Pearls Africa actively searches for internship placements for its students and provides scholarship opportunities through its EducateHer program.

Its mentoring activity, Safe Space, gives girls a place to cope with and address psychological trauma from their daily environments. Mentors answer questions and guide young girls in areas such as sexual health and dealing with abuse as well as cultural practices. This allows girls to understand and address their mental health issues, heal from the impacts of abuse, receive career guidance and more. Safe Space holds workshops every month to help girls build life skills and become successful in their careers.

The Foundation also has three different outreach programs: Community Outreach, Medical Outreach and School Outreach. Respectively, these efforts involve a feeding program and donations, providing free healthcare assistance in Lagos and mentoring girls in secondary schools.

Each of the programs of the Pearls Africa Foundation provides young girls in Nigeria with the tools to lift themselves out of poverty and lead successful, fulfilling lives.

– Sana Mamtaney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Alliance to End Educational Poverty
The G7 Alliance, otherwise known as Group of Seven, is a global intergovernmental organization made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The key principles of this organization are freedom and human rights, democracy and the rule of law and prosperity. The organization promotes sustainable development through “a community of values” by convening at yearly G7 summits. Most recently, the G7 has entered an alliance to end educational poverty in developing countries. 

The G7 Alliance and Goal 5

The G7 Alliance derives from Goal 5 of the G7 Alliance’s Global Goals. The goal is to achieve gender equality. The G7 hopes to do this by ensuring equal access to quality primary and secondary education for both boys and girls. Together, the priorities aid in the path to end poverty in developing countries by 2030.

The G7’s 2021 effort toward Goal 5 includes sending 40 million more girls to school within the next five years. To achieve this, G7 countries will allocate $15 billion to support women and girls’ education in low- and middle-income countries. This movement also includes action to aid in an additional 20 million girls across the world learning how to read by 10 years of age.

Many developing countries already neglected education, especially for women and girls, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic inflicted a new set of conditions that worsened education reform in countries that need it most. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 132 million girls around the world lacked access to an adequate education. Additionally, only one in four countries has equal likelihoods of upper-secondary school attendance for boys and girls.

According to Save the Children, the effects of the pandemic have threatened to reverse the gains that many areas have made regarding girls’ education in recent years. About 11 million girls are currently at risk of completely losing their access to education. In Ethiopia alone, the COVID-19 pandemic forced over 26 million children to leave school due to school closures. 

Moving Forward in the Alliance to End Educational Poverty

The G7 Alliance’s commitment toward Goal 5 is one of the largest in terms of scope and projected impacts. However, the Alliance has yet to decide the details of where the funding must come from and where the funding must go.

The G7’s alliance to end educational poverty is placing education at the forefront of policy reform and international aid as countries adjust to the constant new norms that come with each day of the COVID-19 pandemic. This priority could positively affect global economics and accelerate overall global recovery and wellbeing.

– Kylie Lally
Photo: Flickr