Fight for Girls' Education
Jana Amin has taken great strides to fight for girls’ education. She researched a societal issue and suggested solutions for a school project when she was 13 years old. She decided to write about girls’ lack of access to education. Thus, she contacted Heya Masr, a nonprofit that organizes local educational and empowerment workshops for girls. Then, Amin hired a videographer to film her with Heya Masr’s students. Finally, she created an online fundraising campaign and raised more than $6,000 for the cause.

“We were going to visit family in Egypt anyway,” Amin told The Borgen Project. “And I thought to myself, I’m doing this work anyway. Why not use this as an opportunity to create tangible change?”

This was her first foray into activism. The 17-year-old Egyptian-American has given a TEDx talk, spoken about gender equality on a United Nations panel and curated an exhibit at the American University in Cairo. She advocates changing Western perceptions of Muslim women and wants to fight for girls’ education.

Changing Western Perceptions of Muslim Women

This was Amin’s first time formally conducting advocacy. However, she already had some experience. She lived in Egypt until she was around 10 years old when her family moved to Boston. Her activism began through one-on-one interactions with Bostonians about her life as a Muslim girl.

“On a daily basis, I was asked questions about if Egyptian girls could drive, if my mother could drive, if I was allowed to go to school in Egypt,” Amin said. “And it was all these misconceptions about Islam, the faith, about Middle Eastern culture, and more generally about women in the Middle East, about women in Islam. And so I think that’s how I first initially got pushed towards activism.”

Her desire to fix misconceptions about Muslim women led her to give a TEDx talk, where she spoke about how Western media often portrayed Muslim women as victims of oppression. She suggested that amplifying Muslim women’s voices would change this singular narrative.

Additionally, Amin curated an exhibit at the American University in Cairo. The exhibit featured Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt, the first wife of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the shah of Iran. Furthermore, the exhibit focused on the differences in how the Western and Egyptian press depicted Princess Fawzia. While Western media portrayed the princess as a helpless political pawn. Egyptian press depicted her as a humanitarian, champion of girls’ education and representation of the modern woman. Amin presented her research to bring awareness to Princess Fawzia’s accomplishments and to give other young Muslim women a powerful role model.

Fighting for Girls’ Education

Jana Amin continues to fight for girls’ education in many different ways. She recently spoke on a United Nations panel about how governments can tailor their policies to specifically address gender disparities.

“We often think that change in somebody’s life or change on a meaningful level requires so much,” Amin told The Borgen Project. “Something so simple as giving someone an education can do so much for their life.”

On her 17th birthday, Amin invited and interviewed 17 experts in female education and empowerment. She streamed this digital event “#17for17: Advocating for Girls’ Education” for many to view. The speakers included prominent writers, artists, activists and humanitarians.

Collateral Repair Project

As one of her ongoing projects, she also volunteers with a nonprofit organization called Collateral Repair Project to directly support women’s education efforts in the Middle East. Collateral Repair Project (CRP) is a nonprofit organization based in Amman, Jordan. It supports refugees living in Jordan through educational and female empowerment workshops and basic needs assistance.

Jana Amin discovered Collateral Repair Project during a school trip to the Middle East in her freshman year of high school. She was struck by its SuperGirls workshops, which provide young female refugees with a space to express their feelings, overcome trauma and speak up for themselves.

After Amin returned to Massachusetts, she volunteered with Collateral Repair Project. She met with refugees over Skype to help them practice conversational English. After three years, she also began teaching English over Zoom. However, the lessons were unreliable due to Wi-Fi issues and Amin began to doubt whether the lessons were useful. Yet after about four weeks, a Yemeni woman lined up her four children in front of a camera, who recited basic English phrases that Amin had taught their mother.

Amin said the experience reminded her that “you educate one woman and she has the ability to educate her family and in turn her community.”

The Power of Activism

Amin believes that she has a responsibility to create positive change in her community. To many people, fearlessness propels Amin’s activism. This courage is evident when she cold-called Michelle Obama. While preparing for her “#17for17” birthday event, she called and messaged the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance to ask if Michelle Obama could speak at her event. Although Amin did not expect to succeed, the program’s representatives responded within 24 hours to say that Michelle Obama was busy that day. However, its executive director, Tiffany Drake, was willing to be a speaker. She was delighted to discover she is not alone in the fight for girls’ education.

“I think we do the craziest things when we don’t hold ourselves back,” she said.

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Courtesy of Jana Amin

Girl’s Education Can Bring Financial Prosperity to Developing CountriesEnsuring fair and equal education for children globally has been a growing issue for a long time. Girls particularly can have an extremely difficult time trying to go to school and finish their education. This can be due to the social stigma. A significant obstacle to girl’s education is that their time is needed to work and help feed their families. Poverty in developing countries is also an obstacle to girl’s education. It has recently come to the attention of several different developing countries that keeping girls in school could potentially strengthen their economies and gross domestic product.

Importance of Girl’s Education

It is starting to become clear that poverty is not just hunger or financial strife, but rather directly correlates with poor education. A society cannot expect to move forward and progress if their government does not provide adequate and sufficient education for girls to obtain a successful life. Instead of having the option for education, many girls must stay home. In many cases, this can lead to sexual abuse and unplanned early pregnancies.

Interestingly, strong evidence suggests that there is a strong bias in children from wealthier families having access to better education opportunities than from poorer families. Nearly 33% of girls who are age 10 to 18 have never even stepped foot inside of a classroom. In a recent report by BBC.com, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson heavily emphasized that people are ultimately unaware of the serious harm of girls not having access to education. Prime Minister Johnson has repeatedly reinforced the idea of planned out education for girls that would span 12 years.

COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effect on Girl’s Education

The spread of COVID-19 has been a catastrophe for international school systems all over the world. Within April 2020, a confirmed 194 different nations enforced mandatory school closures. While having the intention of preventing the spread of the disease, it unintentionally derailed over one billion children in their educational journeys. Families have to completely change their daily routines to practice safe distancing and provide a school for their kids. The time lost in the physical classroom is starting to become a noticeable issue. Girl’s education and its setbacks have undoubtedly had a much worse outcome for the young female population. Some are predicting that tens of millions of girls will not get a chance to return to school.

An Initiative to Help Girl’s Education and Developing Countries

A coalition of eight up and coming developing nations have come together in a new initiative. The goal is to ensure the incorporation of poverty-stricken girls completing their primary education. This initiative comes with an underlying advantage that foresees a significant increase in financial output for multiple different developing countries. It is estimated that each dollar used for a girl’s education could generate nearly $3.00 in order to add billions to a country’s total financial income. This approach would be a team effort to help the struggle of developing countries. It can also help warrant the completion of a girl’s primary education. This initiative would suggest that girl’s completion of education could be the real secret to sustainability for countries and the U.N.’s education plan.

Education is one of the most important foundations for any country to succeed. However, many countries overlook girl’s education compared to males. Keeping girls in school can provide financial gain for a country and is a potential outlet for positive change. Therefore, it is essential to ensure the success of all women globally will be carried on for generations to come.

Brandon Baham

Photo: Flickr

improve girls' educationAll around the globe, young girls are forced to end their educational careers early as gender inequality is still quite common. Lack of schooling for young girls limits female participation in the workplace and reinforces patriarchal societies. As of 2018, worldwide totals of illiterate girls from the ages of 5 to 25 outnumbered illiterate boys in the same age group by 12 million. Yet,  global female participation in schooling has grown by 16% since 1995. The momentum gained in the past 25 years looks to continue as three important organizations have released plans to improve girls’ education in 2020 and beyond.

The World Bank

As a global economic institution, the World Bank joined the fight to preserve girls’ education years ago. In fact, the bank launched a seven-year plan in 2016 that focuses on improving all women’s rights, going beyond just education. However, the World Bank identified educational opportunities as a key way to break the cycle of injustice and has subsequently created separate funding solely based on female schooling.

In May 2020, a total of $1.49 billion had already been allocated to improving education for women of all ages, both primary and secondary. This will not only help girls learn to read and write but will also lead to women entering the workplace in countries where men are the ones to hold jobs.

The United Nations (UN)

Many know the U.N. as the global agency where countries discuss peace deals and trade contracts. While this is true, the U.N. also has sectors dedicated to human rights advocacy. An entire branch, known as the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI), works with developing countries to devise plans that enhance educational opportunities for girls. Being under the umbrella of the United Nations adds a level of legitimacy that some nonprofits who want to improve girls’ education are unable to achieve. The UNGEI has a wide range of contributors and currently consists of 24 global and regional partners, four regional partnerships and nearly 50 associated country partnerships. Recently, the United Nations released the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and worked with the UNGEI to add equal educational opportunity for girls as a part of this vision. Girls around the world, especially those living in developing countries, are at the center of this vision, which can lead to powerful change.

Girls Education Challenge (GEC)

Back in 2012, the government of the United Kingdom made global equal education a primary focus. The government joined forces with U.K. Aid to tackle this issue. Together, the two created a groundbreaking 12-year commitment called the Girls Education Challenge (GEC). The first phase of the GEC, which was a huge success, ended in 2017. For the second phase, which will continue until 2024, the U.K. is looking to expand its impact to encompass over 40 projects in nearly 20 nations. With hundreds of millions of dollars now raised for the GEC, its own research suggests that over 800,000 young girls are learning in schools and on the path to finish their education. With four years remaining in the GEC, the United Kingdom’s impact on girls’ education will continue to bring equal opportunities well into the 2020s.

Education, Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction

The World Bank, the U.N. and the U.K. are trying to create fair schooling policies but are also breaking down social barriers in the developing world. Global society is trending in the right direction for gender equality and much more work is left to be done. The work being done to improve girls’ education can and will be a catalyst for change.

– Zachary Hardenstine
Photo: Flickr

She’s the First Across the globe, women face harsh inequalities in education and the promotion of other crucial rights. Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population, receive lower wages, experience gender-based violence and are forced to adhere to strict societal gender norms that prevent their progression. This is especially the case in developing countries. She’s the First is an organization where the progression of women is a central focus.

She’s the First

She’s the First, a nonprofit organization, recognizes the benefits of prioritizing women and gender equality. When females are educated and empowered, they can earn up to 20% more as an adult for each additional year of schooling completed. They are also then more likely to be in healthy relationships, have fewer but healthier children, are less likely to marry early and are more likely to make an impact in the world. These reasons are why She’s the First puts girls first by promoting women’s equality and education.

Putting Girls First

She’s the First promotes girls’ education and equality. It provides funding to different community-based organizations that can implement culturally efficient ways for girls to attend school as well as afterschool programs where they can further their education while simultaneously learning about life skills and reproductive health. She’s the First also runs training and conferences around the globe. These conferences amplify girls’ voices around the world, inspiring them to become leaders in their own communities. As of the end of 2019, She’s the First reached 11,000 girls, had a presence in 21 countries and provided training for 52 community-based organizations.

Girls’ Bill Of Rights

She’s the First is a co-organizer of the Girls’ Bill of Rights, a declaration of the rights all girls are entitled to, written by girls, for girls. More than 1,000 girls from 34 countries contributed to the list, created on the 2019 International Day of Girl and presented to the United Nations. The Girls’ Bill of Rights advocates for the promotion of girls’ rights like quality education, equality, leadership, sexual education and reproductive rights, protection from harmful cultural practices, free decision-making and more. To support the Girls’ Bill of Rights, supporters can use the hashtag “#GirlsBillOfRights”, co-sign the bill or make a public pledge of support.

Women’s Empowerment and Poverty Reduction

She’s the First is an organization that works toward complete equality for women worldwide, especially in regards to education. Currently, women face a significant disadvantage, especially those who are uneducated. If women are given education and equality, they can lift themselves out of poverty since education is directly related to lowering poverty levels. She’s the First spreads this idea by creating culturally efficient ways for girls to go to school and further their education in developing countries. The organization also advocates for women’s rights through the Girls’ Bill of Rights. She’s the First plays a crucial part in empowering women and helping them to lift themselves out of poverty.

– Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr

Computer Access in GhanaAs one of the world’s poorest African countries, Ghana has a poverty rate that touches roughly 55 percent of its population, with only 24% possessing internet access. This acute problem owes itself in part to a large number of its youth, who grow up in the absence education accessibility. However, educators have begun to combat the ailments of impoverished Ghanaian communities. To do this, they utilize the fundamental cornerstone of a globalized world- computer technology. Computers have empowered Ghana’s poverty-stricken youth. As a result, they gain greater access to future job security and change the course of their own lives, along with the communities they inhabit. Below are three ways that computers and new technologies are improving the standard of living in Ghana.

Teaching 21st-Century Job Skills to Teens

The inclusion of computer access within the Ghanaian education system allows teens to develop valuable 21st-century technology literacy. It stands to open critical doors to higher education. In an era that is inarguably dominated by mobile phones, laptops, and wireless communications, access proves paramount. Programs like those presented by Ghana Code Club, which has taught nearly 1,700 students and trained over 300 teachers, enrich Ghana’s youth specifically with computer science as well as coding languages classes, paving the way for future innovations, as well as national economic growth.

Increasing Earning Potential

A Pew Survey showed that computer users connected to the internet are more likely to have higher incomes. The University of Ghana offers a dedicated computer science course that nurtures software programmers, who have the potential to earn up to three times as much as their professors. However, only through expansion will these opportunities allow them to truly reach a wide demographic. Increased computer access in Ghana is difficult to ensure. Currently, only around 36 people graduate from the University of Ghana’s technology program annually. Vast areas of the country are still shielded from these positive impacts.

Breaking the Gender Stereotype

Despite the computer’s role in expanding social and economic standards in Ghana, many traditional African communities restrict women and girls on the basis of acceptable gender roles. Although, new non-governmental organizations like STEMbees, a Ghana-based organization, inspire and allow young girls to break the stigma and enter into the fields of coding science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other organizations, like UNESCO’s Girls Can Code, also work to fight the ongoing battle against gender stereotypes in the African educational sphere. Methods that implement computer stations in Ghanaian villages and equip new schools with current technology continue to increase computer access in Ghana.

Ghana now finds itself in the unique position of being on the verge of a technological revolution that coincides with its industrial revolution. Each of the two transformational eras is set to drive the country towards a prosperous future. This future, additionally, carries with it the promise of greater opportunity for Ghanaian children. Average Ghanaian students gaining access to computer technology furthers the assurance of a better standard of living for Ghanaian citizens. Over time, this development can carry on for generations to come.

Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Education in Guinea-BissauWith a population of 1.8 million, about 69% of people in Guinea-Bissau live below the poverty line and 25% experience chronic malnutrition. In addition to working toward reducing poverty, there is a focus to improve education in Guinea-Bissau, which faces many struggles, including low enrollment rates, limited financial support and gender inequality.

Education Statistics in Guinea-Bissau

In Guinea-Bissau, the literacy rate is around 53%. Only 30% of children begin school at the specified age of six. According to a study conducted by UNICEF, as a result of late enrollment, a significant proportion of children in lower primary grades are overage. As of 2010, 62% of children finished their basic education. About 14% of those in grade one end up completing grade 12. Additionally, out of the 55% of children who attend secondary school, about 22% complete it. As of 2014, the net primary school attendance was 62.4%. Lack of accessibility to school, especially in terms of secondary education outside of urban areas, contributes to these statistics.

Schools also receive insufficient funds for quality education and have to rely on families for support. Adequate standards for physical school buildings and textbooks are also lacking. Teachers tend to lack a proper level of competency in regard to the subject they teach and have insufficient teaching materials. According to a text published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “At a level corresponding to the fifth year of primary education, teachers fail to answer a quarter of the questions on Portuguese and under a half of those in mathematics arising from the syllabus for their pupils.” Furthermore, many schools fail to offer a full curriculum and 46% of teaching days from 2016 to 2017 were lost because of teacher strikes. More than 20% of students aged 7 to 14 years old reside over half an hour from a school and distance decreases their likelihood of attending. Furthermore, many students, the majority being girls, drop out of school due to early marriage and child labor.

Gender Inequality

A gender gap is prevalent within Guinea-Bissau’s education system. Of children aged 10 to 11 years old, 17.5% of boys are not attending school as opposed to 25.7% of girls. Among impoverished families, boys are 1.8 more likely to reach grade six than girls. In general, boys are 1.5 times more likely than girls to take part in General Secondary Education. Moreover, boys obtain 59% of public resources for education, while girls get 41%.

The gender inequality in Guinea-Bissau’s education system leads to consequences, such as child marriage among girls. About 54% of women without an education experienced child marriage, as opposed to the 9% of women who achieved secondary education or higher. The average age of a woman without education for the first delivery of a child is 18.2 years old as opposed to 21.4 years old for a woman who studied for 14 years. Women who received an education of 14 years have an average of about 1.2 kids. On the other hand, women without education have an average of 3.3 children.

Decreasing the gender gap in Guinea-Bissau’s education system would lead to benefits for not only women but the entirety of the population. Women who achieve higher education are 50% likely to vaccinate their children under the age of 5, whereas the likelihood for women without an education is 26%. Furthermore, the likelihood of women who did not attend school using a net to prevent malaria for their children under the age of 5 is 71%, as opposed to 81% among women who studied for at least six years.

The Quality Education for All Project

In July 2018, the World Bank developed the Quality Education for All Project in Guinea-Bissau. The goal of the Project is to improve the overall environment of schools for students from grade one to grade four. Through the Project, the World Bank aims to reduce teacher strikes by providing training. The World Bank also plans to update the curriculum taught as well as educational supplies and materials. Furthermore, the Project encourages greater community involvement in the management of schools.

UNICEF’s Educational Efforts

UNICEF aims to improve the quality of education in Guinea-Bissau, especially with regard to early childhood, through partnership and the rehabilitation of classrooms. Alongside PLAN international, Handicap International and Fundação Fé e Cooperação (FEC), UNICEF monitors schools by training 180 inspectors who are responsible for over 1,700 schools. The monitors focus on teacher attendance as well as the process in the classroom. In order to establish standards, such as National Quality Standards and Early Learning Development Standards, UNICEF also partnered with the Ministry of Education. UNICEF launched Campaign “6/6” to encourage the enrollment of children in school beginning at age 6 and maintaining their attendance throughout primary education.

Response to COVID-19

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which coordinates with UNICEF, allocated $3.5 million to Guinea-Bissau for a COVID-19 response from 2020 to 2021. Through its grant, GPE plans to achieve greater health standards in schools and training among community members to increase awareness of COVID-19 prevention. GPE also supports a radio distance education program as well as a distance program that addresses gender-based violence and the inclusion of children with disabilities. UNICEF broadcasts programs three times a day for radio distance learning. Additionally, GPE aims to assess preschool and primary age students to gather further information about learning loss and to create a program for children out of school.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Increasing Education Access for Girls
Malala Fund is working to change education in impoverished countries by focusing on local leadership. Inspired by Malala Yousafzai’s experiences with activists in Pakistan, the foundation created the Education Champion Network to find visionary leaders in Afghanistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. These leaders are typically local education advocates working on targeted projects that hope to eradicate the hindrance on girls’ access to education in their respective communities.

The Education Champion Network

Nearly all of the Education Champion Network’s target countries do not prioritize girls’ education; not only does this hold girls back from future success and independence, but it also continues the cycle of generational poverty. A root cause of poverty is a lack of education, and all of these countries possess economic troubles and violence. Therefore, increasing education access for girls and other young people not only combats discrimination against girls but also bolsters the economic and cultural state of the nation.

Right now, Malala Fund provides support to 57 Education Champions in eight different countries; all of these local leaders are using different strategies to implement change in their education systems. After potential Education Champions receive a nomination, an intensive analysis takes place with consideration from in-country experts to find the best candidates. The primary goal is to find individuals who have proven that their organizations and projects can result in significant advancement to girls’ education. Once chosen, the foundation provides three-year grants to each recipient to go toward funding their projects and advocacy campaigns. Here are three different Education Champions and their approach to girls’ education.

Rahmatullah Arman – Teach for Afghanistan and Teacher Training

The focus of Arman’s organization, Teach for Afghanistan, is to reduce girls’ dropout rates by increasing the number of female educators. The organization trains young, female college graduates to become teachers and infiltrate Afghanistan’s overcrowded classrooms. Right now in Afghanistan, 57% of educators lack the minimum professional requirements to teach. With a focus in the Nangarhar and Parwan provinces, Arman and his organization are working to keep Afghani girls in the classroom and promote girls’ education in rural communities.

In the Nangarhar province, Teach for Afghanistan has reached over 25,000 girls and 15,000 boys by implementing 270 educators there. Meanwhile, in the Parwan province, the organization has reached over 15,000 children through 70 educators. Additionally, two Teach for Afghanistan’s educators have obtained promotions to principal positions in their schools, increasing the reach of administrators who prioritize keeping girls in school.

Umme Kalsoom Seyal – Social Youth Council of Patriots and Policy Change

Umme is focusing on the southern region of Punjab by working with schools in the region through her organization Social Youth Council of Patriots. She is working to increase girls’ enrollment rates and creating girls’ community schools in areas that lack public education opportunities. Umme has been using the Malala Grant to bring together different community leaders in Punjab to discuss the barriers to girls’ education in the area. This new program creates community groups that deliberate plans and solutions on how to help girls in the area. The program will share these ideas beyond Punjab for implementation in other districts if they prove successful.

The Social Youth Council of Patriots has mobilized its community groups in the sub-district of Muzaffargarh to lobby the government on issues surrounding girls’ access to education. This sub-district, Muzaffargarh, is the poorest area of Punjab with 64.8% of its residents living in extreme poverty. Umme and SYCOP have trained 114 female councilors to identify issues in school facilities, as well as resolve administrative issues in schools by creating school management committees. SYCOP has also been meeting with prominent leaders in the Muzaffargarh area and encouraging them to support girls’ access to education.

Özge Sönmez Vardar – YUVA and Digital Learning

In 2010, Özge created YUVA Association, which works with Turkey and neighboring countries to provide disadvantaged populations, especially refugees, the necessary tools to succeed in their communities. YUVA uses a holistic model to increase awareness of environmental issues as well as education and social issues. Many YUVA programs target the lack of educational and social opportunities for Syrian refugee girls in the country. Through community centers in Hatay and Istanbul, these refugee girls are able to take classes and engage in social activities that will help them re-enter school in their new country. Özge utilizes the Malala Fund grant to fund cultural training for Turkish educators, teaching Turkish as a second language and supporting Syrian refugee girls reintegrate into schools in Turkey.

YUVA has teamed up with the established Hacettepe University to create teacher manuals that illustrate inclusive learning and teaching Turkish as a second language. After being piloted in Ankara, YUVA plans to present the manuals to pertinent public bodies, such as the Ministry of National Education, in order to implement the program nationwide. Just the pilot program alone benefits 400 refugee students who have integrated into Turkish schools, which displays how wide-reaching this program could be for refugee students if it were to undergo implementation nationwide. YUVA has also opened workshops in these areas that provide on-the-job training and employment; the workshops create eco-friendly jewelry, accessories, textile products and shoes and serve as a way for poverty-stricken locals to obtain extra income.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, focusing on the expansion of education equality in insecure countries can result in increased national stability. Education helps bring countries out of poverty and economic turmoil and secures a better future for a nation. Discrimination against girls’ education is a critical issue in many countries, and the Malala Fund has recognized this and implemented action to combat it through the Education Champion Network. Leaders such as Rahmatullah Arman, Umme Kalsoom Seyal and Özge Sönmez Vardar are working tirelessly to change the future of girls’ education and hopefully create a world in which all girls have an equal opportunity to learn.

– Hope Shourd
Photo: Flickr

Girls in Africa
Puberty is a difficult time of life for many adolescent girls worldwide. During puberty, girls may face numerous challenges such as abuse, sexual harassment, unplanned pregnancy and early marriage, all of which pose a threat to their health and psychological well-being. When girls lack the knowledge and tools to navigate puberty safely, these challenges become even more difficult. For girls in Africa, this time can be particularly challenging. However, ZanaAfrica Foundation is an NGO in Kenya helping to provide girls with health education as well as menstrual supplies to help them navigate their periods and stay in school.

Menstruation Myths

Misconceptions about menstruation are common in many communities around the world. In these areas, many consider being female and having a period as shameful and suspicious. A girl’s first period is often a miserable time because of stigma in the local society. At least 50% of adolescent girls in Ethiopia do not receive any information about menstruation before their first periods. The belief is that when girls begin menstruating, they are no longer virgins. At times, some parents punish girls because they believe their periods began as a result of their daughters having sex. The Asembo in Kenya believe that a daughter who is menstruating should not sleep in her mother’s home because the young person is unclean. Myths such as this can make girls in Africa feel unaccepted by their mothers and their communities.

In East Africa, 80% of all girls have no access to health education or sanitary pads. Meanwhile, in Kenya, two out of three girls are unable to access menstrual products regularly. Many girls use homemade cloths or rags, but these solutions can lead to infection, and often they are not very effective. Due to shame and fear, many girls do not attend school when menstruating. In seventh grade, the proportion of girls dropping out of school is 7.1% in comparison to boys at 6.8%. In eighth grade, the dropout gap widens by 0.7%.

Obtaining an education is key to avoiding the grind of poverty, so the girls can get jobs upon graduation. Missing school because of menstruation leads to girls not graduating, thereby consigning girls in Africa to a lifetime of lower-paying work or worse, no paying work. A 2015 study in Kenya revealed that one out of 10 girls engaged in transactional sex in order to obtain menstrual pads.

ZanaAfrica

ZanaAfrica is a nonprofit based in Kenya that focuses on girls’ education and healthcare. The organization works to disseminate information and menstrual products, to keep young women from dropping out of school and thereby avoid eventual poverty. ZanaAfrica’s research shows that healthcare information and menstrual pads win back 75% of learning days at school.

ZanaAfrica leads a global advocacy effort to break the taboo around menstrual periods. Deeply engrained taboos, as well as the lack of communal rites-of-passage that once supported girls during adolescence, leave girls to navigate puberty on their own. Young girls can enter situations in which they receive pressure to have sex or another person touches them inappropriately, but they do not realize that they have the right to say no. As a result, 20% of Kenyan girls ages 15-19 are pregnant, 60% quit before finishing high school and 66% of new HIV infections are in adolescent girls in Africa.

The Publication, “Nia Teen”

To help counter the rising tide of unwanted pregnancy, disease and leaving school, which creates a vicious cycle of poverty, ZanaAfrica publishes a health magazine called “Nia Teen.” Its goal is to improve the health and agency of girls living in the worst informational and economic poverty. The organization has also created a 24-session facilitated health education curriculum.

“Nia Teen” draws from a database of more than 10,000 questions from 1,000 girls. Each issue intends to create behavior change as well as knowledge retention. The publication gives guidance, affirmation and information about menstrual health and puberty. It also celebrates real girls’ accomplishments and features their heroes. A comic in the magazine demonstrates healthy decision-making and comes with a discussion guide. ZanaAfrica believes that when girls receive honest answers to their questions, they gain the confidence to realize their potential and affirmation of their voices. When girls learn about reproductive health, they are better able to make decisions and are more likely to make positive choices for their future.

ZanaAfrica’s Impact

Over the past four years, ZanaAfrica has worked with partners across Kenya to provide over 10,000 girls per year with cotton underwear and sanitary pads, as well as reproductive health education. Since 2013, it has impacted nearly 50,000 girls with the tools they need to thrive. In 2015, ZanaAfrica received a $2.9 million four-year research grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to test the impact of its health education interventions and menstrual pads on health, safety and education for girls in Africa.

COVID-19’s Impact on Girls in Kenya

With Kenyan schools closed until 2021 due to COVID-19, millions of girls are dealing with challenges that the pandemic has worsened. Girls who are not in school are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, pregnancy, sexual violence and ongoing trauma. Support for groups like ZanaAfrica is more crucial than ever since COVID-19 has made it even more difficult for girls in Africa to stay safe.

– Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

empowering women in Israel
Founded in 1925, NA’AMAT is an organization that provides support, education and service to Israeli women. The women who originally started the organization believed in equality: that women were equal to men and deserved equal chances at life. The organization began in New York with the purpose of empowering women in Israel. Eventually, the organization spread to nine countries in total.

Israeli women fought for the right to receive equal treatment in the workplace and community long before the 1960s feminism movement. They demanded respect for all they did as wives and mothers. NA’AMAT played a large role in providing resources for these women. Its mission statement reads: “[NA’AMAT provides] vital educational and social services for women, children and families in need, in Israel.” Here are three ways NA’AMAT fulfills its mission statement.

Nurturing Children

NA’AMAT has 200 facilities to provide childcare to over 17,000 children, so their parents are able to work. The families who enroll pay based on a sliding scale fee, depending on their income. Because so many families live below the poverty line, the NA’AMAT U.S.A. branch raises funds to help pay for these children to attend.

On top of providing early education, NA’AMAT is also a safe haven for children who have suffered abuse or neglect, become an orphan or experienced terrorism. These children receive counseling and special attention.

Empowering Women

In 2004, 18,000 women in Israel reported experiencing abuse, but authorities believe the actual number was closer to 140,000-200,000. One out of three women will experience sexual assault according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. However, most women with conservative or religious backgrounds do not file a complaint.

NA’AMAT focuses on empowering women in Israel by operating legal aid bureaus. Its purpose is to help women who have been victims of workplace discrimination and domestic abuse. It provides counseling and programs that give women a sense of pride and self-worth.

Education For At-Risk Youth

Not everyone without an education lives in poverty, but people who experience poverty are far more likely to not have an education. Education opens doors: it provides more job opportunities, helps fight gender inequality and allows people to develop social skills.

NA’AMAT provides education and vocational training for low-income children. Some of the schools are girls-only, and each student receives personalized care and attention. Whether the children have come from underrepresented groups in Israel or are migrants, NA’AMAT gives them a second chance at developing skills to contribute to society and feel a sense of empowerment.

Empowering women in Israel is a clear focus of the organization. Through NA’AMAT, Israeli women can progress forward in their lives. Whether they have been victims of abuse or neglect, the organization helps them stand on their own two feet. NA’AMAT gives women the support they’d otherwise lack with helping care for children, so they can have a career and provide for their families.

Each woman truly receives personalized care. Additionally, positive role models surround their children and provide support through their adolescence. With NA’AMAT on their side, Israeli women have had an ally for almost 100 years to help fight for equality for themselves and their children.

Tawney Smith
Photo: Flickr

Education Inequality in Pakistan
Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country and home to over 221 million people, is trying to get girls the education they deserve. Education inequality in Pakistan exists primarily because of a lack of funding from the government, unsafe transportation, early marriage and poverty. Families living in poverty in Pakistan frequently choose between sending their children to school, hoping they get there safely, or buying household necessities. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch article, “32% of primary school age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared with 21% of boys.”

The Current Situation in Pakistan

Today, the youth population in Pakistan is larger than it has ever been. With 64% of individuals now under the age of 30, this new generation may be able to change Pakistan’s economy and education system, according to World Education News and Review. However, how can girls make a societal change when only 39% out of that age group, 2% of whom are female, have employment?

Women in Pakistan often do household chores such as cooking and taking care of the children while men in Pakistani culture are the breadwinners. Many in Pakistan see them as worthy of a proper education because they need those skills to create a prosperous life for their family. This adds to the gender and education inequality that exists in the patriarchal society of Pakistan.

For the girls who have the opportunity to go to school, they often face obstacles such as rape and discrimination. The gender-based violence present in Pakistan often occurs through child marriage, domestic abuse and maternal mortality rates. Many girls marry before they turn 18, and according to a 2018 article by TheirWorld, “In 2012 and 2013, 53.7% of married girls between 15 and 19 had never been to school.”

The gender discrimination that girls face in the educational system is an intergenerational problem. The United States has been working to aid Pakistan in furthering its educational system and obtaining education equality for girls.

Solutions

USAID aims to help girls in developing areas gain access to education, diminish the gender gap and keep girls in school when they are at high risk of dropping out. According to the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education, 22.7% of children drop out of primary school. In an attempt to change those statistics, USAID has constructed and repaired 1,607 schools and awarded scholarships to 19,000 students in Pakistan in the past decade.

Education in Pakistan is often poor. School budgets are frequently low, infrastructure is improper and teachers are illegitimate. Change must begin on the inside, starting with the intentions of the Pakistani government.

In past years, Pakistan has fallen short when it comes to financing education. In 2000, Pakistan spent 1.8% of its gross domestic product on education. In 2017, Pakistan spent only 2.9% on education. According to the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education, “The government has allocated Rs. 83.3 billion for Education Affairs and Services in the federal budget for 2020-21.” While there are plans in place to help Pakistan’s economy and promote education, some organizations are working on a more personal level.

Save the Children

Save the Children is an organization that strives to create a better future for children by providing aid to healthcare, education and disaster relief. In Pakistan, the organization’s goal is to raise awareness about girls rights, work towards gender equality and help improve the country’s education system.

“We want to help every child, each one is important but we know girls need more help breaking down those barriers,” said Save the Children’s Vice President of Public Policy and Advocating, Nora O’Connell, in an interview with The Borgen Project. Save the Children’s Choices, Voices, and Promises program aims to educate children about gender and social norms to move towards equality. The program intends to teach boys about the obstacles that their sisters and friends in order to create a supportive, less divided community. “In some cases we see boys helping their sisters with their chores so they have more time to focus on their school work,” said O’Connell.

Save the Children also has programs about sexual and reproductive health, teachers as role models and a mentor program. According to O’Connell, the mentor program is a great way for adolescent girls to stay in school when they are at risk of dropping out. Save the Children pairs girls with mentors who may have dropped out of school due to marriage or pregnancy, in order to show girls they are capable of moving past social barriers.

Through continued work, education inequality in Pakistan should become a part of the past. Everyone deserves the right to an equal and proper education no matter their gender. As the African proverb goes, “if you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

– Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr