Improve Girls' Education in NigeriaFor women in Nigeria, education is a privilege because not all of them have access to it. Some people in Nigeria see education as a commodity and there are many children currently out of school. The Malala Fund estimates that 30% of girls aged 9-12 in Nigeria have never been to school. The children who are in school are more likely to be male. Some families have faced violence for sending their daughters to school. Nigeria faces several challenges in education but organizations are fighting to improve girls’ education in Nigeria.

Fears of Retaliation

In 2018, 13.2 million Nigerian children were out of school and 60% of them were girls. At the time, this was the highest number in the world. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to school and often do not have access to transportation. Free primary education helps, but it is not enough. Others fear retaliation from sending their daughters to school. In 2018, Boko Haram abducted 110 schoolgirls as a message to parents. Boko Haram was very vocal when speaking out against Western education.

In 2021, Boko Haram still controls much of the northeastern part of Nigeria. Boko Haram has a distaste for Western education. In fact, the Islamist militant group’s name loosely translates to “western education is forbidden.” The 2018 kidnapping of 110 schoolgirls was not the group’s first attempt to stop girls’ education in Nigeria. Almost seven years ago, Boko Haram “took 276 girls from their school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria.” Many of these girls are still missing. Inciting fear is one of the ways Boko Haram keeps parents from sending their daughters to school.

Societal Norms

Girls accounted for 60% of children out of school in Nigeria. Poverty, child marriage, societal norms and violence are some of the reasons this rate is so high. Some of these girls had never been to school at all. Not seeing the value in sending their daughters to school if students are not receiving a quality education, families frequently marry girls off instead. Girls’ education in Nigeria has societal impacts as well. When girls have a secondary education, child mortality rates drop, child marriage rates decline and the lifetime earnings of girls increase. These positive outcomes help better society.

Ties With Poverty

One can also tie the lack of girls’ education in Nigeria to its poverty rate. In 2019, the poverty rate in Nigeria was 40% of the population, which equaled roughly 83 million people living below the poverty line. Northern Nigeria has low-quality education, which often means girls often do not get the education they need to thrive.

Period poverty is another factor that has impacted girls’ education in Nigeria over the years. Not being able to afford menstrual products has discouraged girls from going to school when menstruating. Menstrual products are a luxury that many cannot afford. Period poverty leads to many girls and women skipping work or school. Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to urinary tract infections and period poverty can cause depression or anxiety. All these factors can affect a girl’s education.

Previous Projects to Improve Girls’ Education in Nigeria

The Girls’ Education Project initially began in Nigeria in 2004. The focus was on supporting the Nigerian government in its efforts to achieve universal basic and primary education. A subsection of the project was the Girls’ Education Project 3 Cash Transfer Programme. Nigeria implemented it from 2014 to 2016 to improve girls’ education in Nigeria. The program mitigated the impact poverty had on girls’ enrollment in school. Through this program, social and economic opportunities for girls increased. More girls in Nigeria also completed basic education.

In 2020, UNICEF in Nigeria received a grant of $140,000. The grant went toward an online digital platform and strengthening states’ radio and television education programs as well as providing activity books, worksheets and assessment cards. The aid came amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a major impact on the education of children. UNICEF also provides “psychosocial support to children and teachers” and secures wash and hygiene resources for schools.

Today’s Efforts

UNICEF has implemented a program that aims to give all children access to quality education in a safe learning environment. This will take time, but its goal is to help the government achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The key areas of focus for the program are access, learning and skills for emergencies and fragile contexts.

This means providing “gender-equitable access to quality education from a young age, quality learning outcomes and skills development and improved learning and protection for children in emergencies and on the move.” In 2021, 60 million schoolchildren gained access to primary or secondary education.

UNICEF has also established a girls’ education program that focuses on gender equality in education. By giving girls access to a safe education, inequality is reduced, allowing girls to reach their full potential. UNICEF helps governments and schools eliminate gender gaps in education, focusing on teacher training and removing gender stereotypes from learning materials. With help from organizations such as UNICEF, girls’ education in Nigeria will soon become commonplace.

– Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Health in NamibiaOn March 17, 2021, Namibia made the decision to no longer tax menstrual products beginning in the 2022-23 financial year. Currently, these products are taxed 15%, which makes it difficult for many to afford these essential items. The removal of this tax is an important change wherever it takes place. It is especially significant in places like Namibia where 73% of households do not even have adequate handwashing facilities. The tax elimination will not fix all issues related to the inaccessibility of menstrual products, however, it is a major step toward improving menstrual health in Namibia.

The Cycle of Period Poverty

Menstrual health is vital to one’s overall health. Globally, one in five girls misses school due to limited access to menstrual products. This means girls are missing up to one week of school every month. Consequently, students may find it difficult to keep up with their classmates and succeed in school. As getting an education is one of the most effective ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty, this puts girls at an even greater disadvantage and maintains the cycle of poverty.

This phenomenon is commonly referred to as period poverty. Period poverty is an unfortunate reality in Namibia and across the world. The goal of eliminating tampon tax and increasing the availability of menstrual products is to ensure no one misses opportunities simply because they are menstruating. Moreover, no one deserves to have to choose between buying sanitary products or buying food. Furthermore, no one should have to miss work or school simply because they cannot afford menstrual products. Making these products more easily available will reduce poverty and improve menstrual health in Namibia and around the world.

Women resort to alternatives such as rags, paper towels or old pads when they do not have access to menstrual products. The use of these items puts girls at risk of infections. The inaccessibility of sanitary products has also been linked with poor mental health and overall distress. These effects are easily preventable when menstrual products become accessible.

Menstrual Stigma

Many people do not consider menstrual health when trying to improve overall health. In many parts of the world, menstruation is considered unclean and shameful. This prevents many women from participating in society while menstruating. Access to menstrual products, like any other products that improve sanitation and health, is a human right. Regulations removing menstrual tax make these products more affordable and accessible. The removal of tampon tax will not take away the stigma surrounding menstruation, however, it will help protect people from disease, improve mental health and ease the completion of daily tasks while menstruating.

Namibia’s deputy minister in the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Emma Theofelus, states, “Period poverty is one of the undignifying processes women and young ladies have to experience. Your period is such a natural process and not something they can opt out of. There are not enough social and economic circumstances to create safety for young women.” Since menstruation is a natural experience for nearly half of the population, equitable access to sanitary products should not be negotiable.

Addressing Period Poverty Globally

Namibia is not the first country to eliminate tampon tax, countries such as Kenya, India, Australia and South Africa have also done so. Other countries, such as Germany, have decreased the amount of tax. However, in most of the world, including most U.S. states, these essential items are still taxed, which makes menstrual products unavailable to many. The state of menstrual health in Namibia is sure to improve now that tampon tax is done away with. The rest of the world should look to Namibia as an example and make similar changes. Every girl and woman deserves to menstruate with dignity and Namibia is one step closer to making this a reality.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

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