Girls' Education in the DRC
Congolese-Cypriot model Noëlla Coursaris Musunka is not just an international, fashion superstar. In addition to her successful modeling career, her charity Malaika is changing the lives of young girls and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Through her philanthropy, Coursaris Musunka aims to empower and thus, help improve girls’ education in the DRC, so they can have the most opportunities for future success.

Noëlla Coursaris Musunka

After Coursaris Musunka’s father died when she was young, her mother sent her to live with relatives in Belgium and Switzerland so that she could have a stable education. Though Coursaris Musunka succeeded academically and completed a degree in Business Management, she had little contact with her mother back home in the DRC. Their communication at that time consisted mainly of occasional letters or phone calls. As Coursaris Musunka herself said, “When you have nothing, you know that if you fall there’s no one to pick you up. So you have to stand. I resolved very early on that I would study and work and be independent.”

Realizing that many girls back home did not have access to education, she decided to start a charity to help girls’ education in the DRC. Coursaris Musunka, inspired by her own experiences and the lack of opportunity she witnessed at home, began this endeavor.

Malaika Foundation

Malaika Foundation (named after the Swahili word for “angel”) is a grassroots organization working to improve girls’ education in the DRC. Coursaris Musunka acts as the charity’s president and founder.

According to Coursaris Musunka’s personal website, Malaika “empowers Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs.” The Malaika School currently educates more than three hundred young girls with a rigorous syllabus. Notably, 100% of students have passed their year six exams since 2017. Additionally, Malaika has created 20 wells in the DRC to supply residents with drinking water. Moreover, she founded a community center that “provides education, health and sports programmes to over 5,000 youths and adults per year.”

The Malaika School in Kalebuka

Currently in its ninth year of operation, the Malaika School (located in Kalebuka) advances girls’ education in the DRC at no cost to its hundreds of students. Also, the institution serves both primary and secondary school-aged children. The school educates students on a variety of topics, including multiple languages, STEM fields and the arts. Malaika particularly emphasizes the importance of leadership to teach girls to strive for success. The school also commits itself to sustainability — providing students with breakfast and lunch every day. Importantly, these meals include fruits and vegetables, grown in the school’s own garden. Additionally, the school is “100% powered by solar energy.” After graduation, Malaika matches students with internships while other students choose to continue their education at universities or specialized colleges.

A Model Beyond Fashion

Coursaris Musunka continues to invest her free time into the charity she founded. “My message to every child,” she says, “to every young girl, is this: take your opportunity, go to school. Educate yourself. Become pioneers of education and pioneers of Africa and the world.” Coursaris Musunka is a model in the world of fashion, female leadership and educational, charity initiatives. Inspirational and influential figures such as Coursaris Musunka are doing important work in the advancement of education, especially for young girls.

Jackie McMahon
Photo: Flickr

gender discrimination in niger
Niger is a country located in West Africa that spans more than 1.3 million square kilometers and is home to approximately 22.3 million people. It is ranked the lowest out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). A prominent issue is its weakened education system, where children in Niger spend a mere two years on average. Additionally, there exists a gender gap that exacerbates discrimination against girls’ education. To combat this burgeoning issue, a variety of organizations have been working towards eliminating gender discrimination in Niger to provide better quality education for girls.

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been focusing on reform of Niger’s education system for five years. Starting in May 2015, the project targeted several schools in the town of Torodi. While this small town has been left out of many national development programs, UNESCO is working to successfully implement accessible schooling services to all girls in the region. The program also facilitates tutoring sessions and encourages female teachers to be employed in local schools.

UNESCO recognized that due to the rapid population growth, empowering the youth through education would go a long way towards improving the country’s socioeconomic standards. Moreover, with organizations like UNESCO teaming up with the government of Niger, the country is seeing positive developments in girls’ education. They reported a jump from 27 % to 65 % in girls’ primary school enrollment between 2000 and 2014.

UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also played an active role in reducing gender discrimination in Niger’s education system since 2012. Through significant investments and thorough management, enrollment into primary schools has increased remarkably, especially with girls. Approximately 66% of the 71% of children enrolled in primary schools are girls. While these numbers are promising, factors like child marriages and safety concerns remain to be a significant barrier to girls’ education. UNICEF has laid out several objectives and solutions to overcome these issues.

According to a UNICEF representative in Niger, “only one in two girls goes to primary school, one in ten to secondary school and one in fifty to high school.” UNICEF partners with Niger’s government at the ministerial level to ensure that that access to girls’ education is a policy priority. In doing so, UNICEF monitors how Niger is meeting its education goals. Additionally, UNICEF works at the community level to monitor that both boys and girls receive quality education. For girls, UNICEF realizes the cultural and societal issues at play, like the expectation of housework and child marriages, and works with those effected to overcome these obstacles.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has signed a ten year deal  (2014-2024) with Niger’s national education sector to help decrease the gender discrimination present in its education system. USAID also promotes parental education to the community as a whole. Well-educated parents are more likely to enroll their children in school as well as encourage the completion of their curriculums.

International organizations are continually working to help Niger’s government through funding and managing the country’s education sector. Reform of the country’s education system has been progressing over two decades and has made notable improvements in terms of enrollment rates. As the country progresses into the next decade, organizations like UNESCO, UNICEF, and USAID plan to further support children in Niger by working to provide them with equal and quality education. Such improvements in education and gender discrimination can have a ripple effect, bringing positive change to Niger’s social, political, and economic systems.

– Omer Syed
Photo: Flickr

Flaviana Matata FoundationInternational fashion model Flaviana Matata survived malaria and studied electrical engineering in college. In 2007, Matata was the first-ever Tanzanian woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. In 2016, after learning that house paint is often passed off and sold as nail polish in Tanzania, she founded Lavy Products, a nontoxic nail polish company whose products appear online and in stores and salons across Tanzania. As she breaks records and embarks upon entrepreneurial endeavors, Matata has made philanthropy a priority, founding the Flaviana Matata Foundation in 2011.

Matata’s foundation is a nongovernmental organization that supports women’s education in Tanzania. The foundation also helps women establish their own businesses and find employment opportunities.

Education in Tanzania

In Tanzania, less than 56% of children move onto secondary school after completing their primary school education. While the Tanzanian government abolished school fees for primary and secondary school education in 2015, costs such as transportation, lunch and exams still make it three times less likely that students from poor families will attend primary school when compared with children from wealthy families. As of 2016, the poverty rate in Tanzania is estimated to be 26.8%, meaning that more than 13 million Tanzanians live in poverty.

“A lot of kids do very well in school but have to quit or stop because they can’t afford school fees, uniforms or even books—the little things we take for granted,” Matata said in an interview for the Diamond Empowerment Fund, which has helped sponsor many of the Flaviana Matata Foundation’s initiatives.

The Foundation’s Approach to the Gender Gap

Girls are less likely than boys to receive a secondary-level education in Tanzania. The literacy rate for adult women in Tanzania was approximately 67% in 2009. Laws banning child marriage and fee-free education at the secondary level have been important steps toward increasing access to education in Tanzania, but more progress still needs to be made.

The Flaviana Matata Foundation aims to achieve this progress and make education in Tanzania more accessible for women. To date, the Flaviana Matata Foundation has helped over 5,000 students in Tanzania, providing school supplies, improving school infrastructure, adding desks and giving toiletry boxes for girls to use while on their menstrual cycles.

Ongoing Activism

The foundation has prioritized various projects since 2011. The Clean and Safe Water Project, completed in 2018, provides 319 students and teachers with a supply of clean water. The Stationery Back to School Project, completed in early 2020, equipped 304 students with stationery kits to last the academic year. The foundation’s ongoing project, Education Sponsorship for Young Girls, currently sponsors 25 girls from secondary school to college or university age with full scholarships and vocational and educational training.

Matata, whose Instagram following is 1.5 million as of July 2020, regularly shares information about Lavy Products and the Flaviana Matata Foundation online. Her work proves that social media can be used to make a positive impact and combat education inequality. As 24 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa remain unable to afford an education, the Flaviana Matata Foundation’s initiatives continue to play a crucial role in bridging education gaps.

Zoe Engels
Photo: Pixabay

Women’s Access to Healthcare in Iraq
Iraq, a nation that war and devastation have plagued, has a healthcare system in a state of crisis. Doctors are fleeing the country and drugs are running low. Of a nearly $107 billion budget in 2018, only about 2% went to Iraq’s health ministry. As a result, healthcare quality is very poor, and women’s access to healthcare in Iraq is particularly limited. Many doctors attempt to purchase supplies and technology from private manufacturers, but laws require that the government provide all medical supplies.

Violence Against Women

About 96% of Iraqi citizens do not have health insurance, but 85% of women over the age of 15 are unemployed and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. Iraq’s long history with misogyny, honor killings and religious ideas promoting the use of violence against women exacerbates the situation for Iraqi women, 37% of whom will experience violence from a partner or acquaintance.

Women in Iraq have little to no access to female-centered health such as OB-GYNs, counseling and crisis centers, which are generally secret or hidden. WHO has called the issue of violence against women a “global health issue of epidemic proportions,” and has created effective measures so that doctors can become more aware of abuses. In Iraq, where women are unlikely to see doctors sensitive to women’s issues, there is no guarantee of receiving assistance.

Access to Education

Another issue affecting women’s health is a lack of female doctors due to a very low rate of education among girls in Iraq. Unfortunately, little data is available to measure the number of girls who attend in school in Iraq — which is itself proof of the lack of attention to girls’ education. As of 2010, according to the last published report about female education in Iraq, only 44% of girls were enrolled in school. The report also revealed that 75% of girls dropped out before the end of primary school, and only 25% of girls who stayed in primary school made it to intermediate school.

Women’s lack of access to education has proven to be a direct link to child marriage and the exploitation of young women. About 33% of girls who have to marry have no education, and 13% only have a primary school education. Girls who are educated are more likely to recognize the signs of abuse, which gives them a chance to escape, pursue careers and experience lower risks of poverty.

US Efforts to Help

The Girls Lead Act (S.2766) aims to make education more accessible for girls in nations like Iraq. This bill will strengthen young girls’ involvement and participation in education, specifically in math, science and politics. A lack of women in leadership roles is a major factor behind misogyny and sexism in developing nations, as well as in women’s health. According to the bill, “Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision making. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.”

Writing to leaders in support of the Girls Lead Act, participating in initiatives to ban child marriage and raising awareness of gender-based violence are key ways to increase women’s access to healthcare in Iraq. These efforts may be the greatest chance that Iraqi girls have at living a prosperous life.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr

Education in Sierra LeoneMany important improvements in educational outcomes have occurred in Sierra Leone since 2015, especially for women and children. The country is bouncing back from the civil war, Ebola crisis and other serious challenges. This progress is partially owed to organizations that help children go to school. Several NGOs and community-based actors support education in Sierra Leone. Here is a small glimpse into the work of many.

4 Organizations Improving Education in Sierra Leone

  1. Street Child: Street Child’s goal is to improve the educational prospects of the world’s poorest and most marginalized children. Since its founding, the organization has helped more than 250,000 children escape poverty and go to school.  It originally started by improving education in Sierra Leone, where it began a project for 100 children in a small northern village. It has since expanded to serve children in ten other countries. Some of its work involves providing young girls with school supplies and giving families financial support. The organization also trains teachers and supplies classroom materials.
  2. Mother’s Club: After setbacks and challenges from the Ebola outbreak, mothers in Sierra Leone began organizing to ensure their children would receive a full education. Mother’s Clubs are village and community-based networks that sell products to fund their children’s schooling. Profits from farming, tye-dyeing, gardening and soap making pay for school supplies, books and uniforms. Thanks to these self-starters, with aid from international partners like UNICEF, communities can help drive positive educational outcomes.
  3. Girls Access to Education (GATE): Funded by U.K. Aid and its partners, Girl’s Access to Education (GATE) aims to help girls from disadvantaged households go to school and enables out-of-school girls to resume their education. Importantly, it also empowers communities to create their own solutions. The net enrollment rates in both primary and secondary education have consistently increased since 2013, due in part to their work. Where the literacy rate for girls ages 15-24 was less than 40% in 2005, that figure rose to 62.7% in 2018. The gap between male and female literacy rates continues to drastically decrease as well. This speaks to an overwhelmingly positive impact on Sierra Leone’s children and youth.
  4. Teach for All: Teach for All is a network of education partners and nonprofits who work together to help inspire change on a global scale. The organization announced Teach for Sierra Leone as its latest partner in July 2020. Similarly to other actors, Teach for Sierra Leone is community-driven and recognizes educational disparities in the country as an urgent issue. They aim to bridge education gaps by recruiting women and teachers from under-resourced schools whose efforts will help break the cycle of global poverty.

A Brighter Future

Overall, these organizations play a critical role in improving access to education in Sierra Leone. Currently, many schools have been disrupted due to COVID-19, but now radio lessons bridge the learning gap until reopening. So long as outside actors continue to provide foreign aid, assist in educational outcomes and empower communities, children in Sierra Leone will be able to reach their fullest potential.

Rachel Moloney
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Malawi
Malawi, a small country in Southern Africa, is known for its rich culture. Unfortunately, their economy is still very poor. There are many factors that lead to poverty, but education, specifically girls’ education in Malawi, is a major source of financial turmoil that is often overlooked.

Girls’ Education and Poverty

World Bank has found that girls around the world are consistently enrolled in school at lower rates than boys. Malawi is no exception. While around 67% of boys in the country complete primary school, that number is 8% lower for girls. This gap stays consistent throughout different stages of schooling. Low-income households have a larger divide between male and female education. When analyzing upper-class families in Malawi, researchers found little difference in the percentage of girls and boys attending school.

The Malala Fund discovered that improving girls’ education has the potential to unlock trillions of dollars in revenue, while also increasing human rights. Therefore, the barriers to female literacy must not be overlooked. Data analysis proves that nations that discourage education for girls also have higher rates of financial struggle and a larger wage gap. As proven by the aforementioned connections between class and school enrollment, economic barriers are a factor to illiteracy. However, attempting to combat poverty without working toward equal access to education for girls will not yield results.

Barriers to Girls’ Education in Malawi

Daniel Moyo spoke to The Borgen Project on the relationship between education inequality and economic strain in Malawi. As the program director for Ministry of Hope Malawi, he witnesses these issues firsthand. The entrenched cultural norms that Moyo says “look at girls as sexual objects and not as equal human beings” are much more difficult to overcome than the financial burdens. Moyo explains that sexism in schooling directly impacts the economy by “creating a situation where most women are not only housewives, but also left to suffer in acute poverty.”

When charities provide economic funding for girls’ education in Malawi without understanding cultural barriers as well, their efforts are futile. Moyo cites an example of aid that went wrong due to this oversight. An NGO sponsored a secondary school in Phalombe and provided every girl with economic support. However, this backfired because it neglected to tackle the surrounding issues. Moyo discusses how the money gave the students freedom without guidance, resulting in their newfound status being used to “compete for boyfriends and men and not necessarily for financial or material gain.” Thus, “at the end of one year, almost half of the girls at this one high school became pregnant.”

Holistic Approach to Improving the Economy

The efforts by organizations such as Ministry of Hope are helping to improve poverty by recognizing its connection to girls’ education in Malawi. This nonprofit, dedicated to helping vulnerable communities, takes a holistic approach to aiding Malawians that has assisted in making tangible change. Between 2000 and 2018, almost 9% more girls were enrolled in secondary school.

Ministry of Hope encourages organizations to not blindly give money to improve the economy. Rather, “it calls for a lot of factors including policy shifts, cultural beliefs, behavior changes, and a lot of investment in girls’ education.” This is why supporting bills such as the Keeping Girls in School Act (S.1071) is so crucial for tackling poverty in the Global South.

There tends to be a narrative that poverty causes illiteracy. However, if that approach is flipped, there comes a new solution with additional potential for forging change. By advancing education, poverty can also be lowered. Those fighting for change must help organizations on the ground who are providing guidance along with their scholarships. By addressing the cultural and economic barriers of educational inequality, poverty can begin to decrease in Malawi.

– Annie Bennett
Photo: Flickr

Women and Girls in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso is a landlocked, Sub-Saharan country in West Africa. Of the 20 million people residing there, 50.3 percent are female. Women and girls in Burkina Faso are likely to suffer from sexual or violent assault, experience forced marriage, be sold as property, die from unsafe pregnancy or abortion and/or undergo genitalia mutilation.

More than 85 percent of the population in the area supports the idea that these practices should discontinue. The government reformation of the constitution in 2016 claiming to strengthen women’s and children’s rights reflects this support. Unfortunately, women living in West Africa are still in immediate need of medical aid in order to live safe and healthy lives.

The organization Lighting the Path launched a new Women’s Aid Fund (WAF) to accomplish just that by helping women and girls in the fight for life. To gain further insight into how WAF is changing the lives of those living in Burkina Faso, The Borgen Project interviewed Dawn Malcolm, founder of Lighting the Path.

Life for Females in Burkina Faso

While the country’s government has put a policy into motion that promotes gender equality, the women and girls in Burkina Faso still face many unfair and cruel practices.

According to a Country Gender Profile by Japan International Cooperation Agency, when it comes to education, it is “socially ingrained that girls should be doing household chores rather than going to school.” In 2018, Burkina Faso saw a mere 32 percent of the female population enroll in schools.

Additionally, it is likely that women and girls in Burkina Faso will experience sexual assault from other students or teachers. In 1998, a Medical Research Council Survey found that 37.7 percent of girls in South Africa said that a school teacher or principal had raped them.

Additionally, there is an issue of forced marriage, including underaged young women. Families force more than half of all girls under the legal age of 17 into unregistered marriage.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is also extremely prevalent in Burkina Faso. Specifically, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common practice for the nation. Despite the fact that Burkina Faso banned this practice in 1996 and the majority of the population is aware of the harmful effects, 76 percent of females between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone mutilation.

Finally, women’s economic status in the country is far below that of men’s status. This occurs for three main reasons. Firstly, many in the country do not value women’s right to own property. Secondly, the right of succession does not apply to women. Thirdly, women cannot seem to buy or inherit the land. All of these economic issues make women reliable for men for a sustainable way of life, continuing the suppressive cycle.

Behind Lighting the Path

Dawn Malcolm founded Lighting the Path with the main goal of ending extreme poverty. The organization works with outreach programs and finds people in poverty who suffer from a lack of food, health care or education. The organization offers support through teaching business and entrepreneurship skills, which Malcolm believes is the best way to help. “Women and the people in poverty have to be empowered to help with the process of writing them out of poverty,” she says. “It can’t just be hand-outs all the time.” One example of this enterprise production model was teaching the women and girls in Burkina Faso to make soap out of the shea butter readily available to them in the village.

LTP is currently working on five fundraising projects: The Girls for Girls Project, The School for Girls Project, The Giving Hope Project, Empowerment Work in Burkina Faso and Microfinancing projects. For sustainable development, building the school for girls is the main focus of LTP’s future, as of now.

The Women’s Aid Fund

The Women’s Aid Fund is a new project that Lighting the Path has had success with. It formed while Malcolm was in Burkina Faso teaching women to make the shea butter soap. While working there, she recognized that women and girls had untreated medical issues. “Women there are husbands’ property, so they’re not always taken care of. Plus, if there’s any money, [the women] would take care of their children before they would get themselves cared for,” Malcolm told The Borgen Project. She typically saw injuries that occurred from FGM or injuries that occurred from fistulas that had not received treatment. Fistulas develop when the body is not ready for birth; in this case, the underaged girls who entered marriage unwillingly commonly developed fistulas.

Most of the things Malcolm witnessed were widespread, occurring on a daily basis and would likely require more than one group’s intervention for eradication. During her time, Malcolm encountered one woman with an injury she knew she could help with if she had the right amount of resources.

A woman named Elizabeth had lost her arm in a domestic dispute with her husband. “Life is very, very difficult [there]. It’s a lot of work, and it’s very hard there already, so when a woman has an injury, or an illness or wound that compromises her further, it just compounds the difficulty of life,” she said. Malcolm saw that by simply purchasing a prosthetic arm, she and Lighting the Path could change Elizabeth’s life for the better.

The WAF formulated with the goal of buying Elizabeth the prosthetic arm. The arm cost about $1,700 but Lighting the Path decided that was not enough. Not stopping at the prosthetic, WAF is continuing to help other women and girls in Burkina Faso who have disabilities or need medical attention. Malcolm says that even small things—a cut on the finger, for example—can sometimes become septic and lead to death if it does not receive treatment. There will always be ways we can help the women and girls in Burkina Faso. Malcolm said, “There’s always going to be women in need of some support to get some treatment or some care that they can’t otherwise afford.”

 Sadly, things like sexual assault, FGM, illegal marriage and unsafe abortion still happen to women and girls in Burkina Faso. Change may come in the future, but it is likely that everyday women and girls in the country are experiencing harm while waiting for that change to arrive. Thankfully, organizations like Lighting the Path and funds like the WAF are improving the way these women heal.

Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

Women Empowerment Organizations in Sub-Saharan AfricaWomen’s empowerment is a critical component in achieving development and sustainably reducing poverty. It increases the quality of life for men and women globally. Gender parity would allow for a $28 trillion increase in the global GDP. In addition, women typically invest in their families and communities more than men. This will contribute to overall economic and social growth. Sub-Saharan Africa is a rapidly developing region. However, there are serious challenges when it comes to gender equality in terms of education, economic rights, leadership opportunity and access to healthcare. Gender parity in sub-Saharan Africa will specifically allow for $721 billion in growth to the GDP. For the region to develop and grow to its full potential, the gender gap must be addressed. Many women’s empowerment organizations are working to address gender gaps. Here are four gender empowerment organizations operating in sub-Saharan Africa

4 Gender Empowerment Organizations

  1. Africare: Africans and Americans founded Africare in the 1970s. Africare is a non-governmental organization with the mission of improving the quality of life of people in Africa. Since its beginning, Africare has provided more than $1 billion in assistance to tens of millions of people across the African continent. The organization does this by addressing Africa’s development and policy issues. In addition, Africare partners with African people in an effort to build sustainable communities. Africare’s approach includes community engagement, capacity building, locally-driven behavior change and innovative public-private partnerships. Africare is a women’s empowerment organization that believes providing resources to African women is beneficial to African societies. Additionally, as women receive education and higher legal status, they are able to provide their households with better nutrition and access to healthcare. Moreover, Africare works to provide greater leadership opportunities for women by working with local partners. Africare provides leadership coaching, literacy training, business training and market access for African women.
  2. Make Every Woman Count (MEWC): Make Every Woman Count is an African, women-led organization that works in mobilization, networking, advocacy and training African women. The organization helps build women’s leadership capability and works towards changes in policy to be more supportive of women. The work is largely online, using the potential of the internet to reach out to women in Africa. In addition, MEWC plays a huge role in information proliferation. They give guidance to other organizations and grassroots movements operating to empower women in Africa. In addition, the organization also provides a platform for women to exchange ideas and create networks to “establish female leaders in Africa.” Furthermore, MEWC’s major goal is to make sure that African women “have a strong voice in governance institutions.”
  3. Asante Africa Foundation: The Asante Africa Foundation is primarily an educational organization. Its mission is to educate and empower the next generation of agents of change. In 2018 alone, the organization was able to impact 23,085 lives. Moreover, it understands the specific challenges that face women and girls in aspects of access to education in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the foundation has programs that are female-centric to aid in these issues. The foundation pioneered the Girls’ Advancement Program. This is one of the women’s empowerment organizations that centers around the idea that using girls’ education promotes development and economic growth. Moreover, the Girls’ Advancement Program takes a holistic approach by taking into account the “cultural, social and health factors.” All of these factors are relevant and correlated to the gender gap in education. The program aims to do this by creating safe spaces, educating in reproductive health, building peer support and mobilizing women as mentors in their communities.
  4. Men Engage: Non-governmental organizations along with U.N. agencies formed Men Engage in 2004. The organization works to engage men and boys in the struggle for gender equality. The coalition is made up of organizations like the Family Violence Prevention Fund, International Planned Parenthood Federation, WHO, UNDP and so forth. The understanding that men play an important role in achieving gender equality is essential to the alliance. In addition, the alliance is working at the national level in many African nations through its MenEngage Africa section to create a dialogue with key individuals, policymakers and advocates working locally to make gender equality a reality. Its sub-Saharan African Regional Symposium brought together delegates from 25 countries, resulting in the MenEngage Africa Declaration and Call to Action.

These women’s empowerment organizations are doing important work in addressing gender inequality and building capabilities. Women’s empowerment is a necessary focus on creating sustainable development and reducing poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and globally.

Treya Parikh

Photo: Flickr

Women around the globe account for 35 percent of students enrolled in higher education science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, according to a 2017 UNESCO report. However, by the end of tertiary education, women only comprise less than 3 percent of information and communication technology (ICT) graduates.

These numbers indicate a failure of educational systems to retain girls in STEM. This results in a deficiency of women in STEM jobs, which is especially alarming because these STEM careers drive innovation, inclusive growth and sustainable development. To address this challenge and improve the participation and achievement of girls in STEM, several organizations are amplifying girls’ STEM education in developing nations.

5 Organizations Investing in Girls’ STEM Education in Developing Nations

  1. Indian Girls Code: Founded in 2013 by two sisters, the Indian Girls Code offers free coding and robotics education for underprivileged girls in India. The initiative began in multiple cities as an afterschool program and summer camp for girls as young as 4 and 5 years old. It has since expanded to include weekly classes for 75 primary school students at Annai Ashram, an all-girls orphanage in Trichy. Indian Girls Code believes a hands-on education inspires creativity and innovation. As such, students are taught using Scratch, an open-source software, and Phiro robots, which are programmable, Lego-compatible toys
  2. Tech Needs Girls: Tech Needs Girls is an educational initiative based in mentorship that aims to equip young Ghanian girls with skills in coding and information technology. The organization has 200 mentors, who are all either female computer scientists or engineers; these mentors have collectively trained more than 4,500 girls — many of whom come from extreme poverty conditions. Girls between the ages of 6 and 18 are encouraged to participate by gaining knowledge of the basics of computing, set up blogs and develop software applications. The founder of Tech Needs Girls, Regina Agyare, an IT graduate and entrepreneur, hopes that teaching girls about technology will enable them to become economically empowered, self-confident and passionate.
  3. Code to Inspire: As the first coding academy for girls in Afghanistan, Code to Inspire has taught 200 high-school girls to code and build mobile applications and games. Since the organization’s launch in 2015, more than 70 percent of the students have graduated and continued on to find work with above-average compensation. The founder of Code to Inspire, Fereshteh Forough, aspires to help close the gender gap in STEM by teaching Afghani women the skills to achieve financial and social independence and stability. Forough sees coding as uniquely valuable to female economic empowerment — since coding can be done remotely, female software developers can work from home while building a career.
  4. Pearls Africa Foundation: Located in Nigeria’s Silicon Valley, GirlsCoding, a free program run by the Pearls Africa Foundation, is educating girls in the fields of coding and software development. GirlsCoding offers weekly courses in digital literacy to underserved and underrepresented girls between the ages of 7 and 18. Since 2012, the initiative has educated more than 400 girls. GirlsCoding also helps promote the continuation of tech education and careers by introducing students to different tech companies in the region. In the future, GirlsCoding hopes to expand to different states in Nigeria.
  5. She Will Connect Africa: An initiative of Intel, She Will Connect Africa, has trained more than 150,000 women in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya in digital literacy since launch in 2013. She Will Connect Africa aims to expand to reach five million women by the end of 2020. The program operates in two main ways. First, She Will Connect Africa partners with nongovernmental organizations to integrate face-to-face digital learning into development programs targeting women and girls. Second, the initiative also partners with job placement organizations to enable women to access continued opportunities in STEM.

With technological change accelerating, a continued failure to develop girls’ STEM education will diminish the potential of half the global population. However, by investing in girls’ STEM education in developing nations, these five organizations are driving innovation and women’s economic participation. These goals are highly cost-effective and thoughtful investments; closing the gender gap in digital fluency will open work opportunities for women, contribute to national economic growth and help achieve larger gender parity.

– Kayleigh Rubin
Photo: Wikimedia

Literacy Rates in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, a landlocked country in south-central Asia, houses many different ethnic groups and extremely important trade routes. The country also has a longstanding history in literature, with poets such as Reza Mohammadi and Khaled Hosseini. Unfortunately, due to the spread of the Taliban regime and devastating wars, literacy rates in Afghanistan are among the lowest in the world at about 45 percent for men and 17 percent for women. In 2018, Idress Siyawash had the vision to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan with the implementation of his mobile bicycle libraries.

Mobile Bicycle Libraries

Read Books, or Ketab Lwast, is a program that Idress Siyawash started to provide books and learning experiences for children in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas. Siyawash is a student at Jahan University in Kabul, Afghanistan. Each week, he and his team travel to rural areas in Afghanistan to deliver books to children. They ride around town on bright blue bicycles with baskets full of books in order to excite the children and motivate them to learn. Then, they gather all the kids and teach them to read, write, speak and understand the importance of learning. Female volunteers travel from home to home working to encourage mothers and fathers to send their daughters to school. The female volunteers serve as models for parents who want a better, more equal life for their daughters.

Motives and Inspiration

Education rates in Afghanistan are significantly lower than those of other countries. For example, Afghanistan has an average literacy rate of 38 percent, while the international average is 84 percent. Education in rural areas is especially low. Gender inequality also affects education in Afghanistan, as many women do not have permission to attend schools, and in most provinces, the amount of female teachers is below 10 percent.

Siyawash had the determination to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan and also change Afghani attitudes regarding gender equality in terms of education. In an interview, Siyawash said, “Our idea is to show that reading is fun and explain why education is so important. If we give the children books, it might help end the way of thinking that is holding this country back.”

Obstacles and Solutions

One of the main obstacles to education in Afghanistan is distance. Some children, especially in rural areas, must walk for hours to reach their schools. For example, children in the Badakhshan province walk four hours each day to go and come back from the closest government-supported school. Siyawash’s bicycle idea tackles this obstacle effectively, bringing education straight to the children.

Another obstacle is the fear of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, especially among females. Unfortunately, Taliban members have confronted and threatened Siyawash and his team twice, but they continue to travel and provide services to children because they believe in a “different future for Afghanistan.”

Read Books has had success in its goal to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan. Over the span of just a few years, the literacy rate in Afghanistan grew from 38 percent in 2015 to 43 percent in 2018. Overall, the future of education in Afghanistan is looking brighter.

– Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr