Girls Through Education
While 91% of children around the world go to primary school, only 50% of refugee children are as lucky. These odds are startling, especially considering that 69 million girls remain out of school worldwide and that this number is expected to increase due to the refugee crisis. UNESCO plans to change that.

“Changing the World of Refugee Girls Through Education” is the aim of UNESCO’s new partnership with Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Save the Children, showcased in late January. Its main goal is to raise awareness of the extreme vulnerability of refugee girls and to secure solutions for their future through education and skills development.

The project is geared toward Syrian and Jordanian women who struggle to continue basic education or pursue work opportunities. The partners are working to help develop the life, business and vocational skills of these women, all while encouraging them to share their experiences.

The program, which is based in Jordan, offers refugee girls innovative job search techniques and helps them develop skills required to gain employment. In addition to all this, UNESCO helps them find opportunities in today’s global marketplace. If needed, one-on-one psychological counseling is also provided.

Schools also play an important role in identifying refugee children at risk of abuse, sexual and gender-based violence as well as forced recruitment. Even more so, they can help connect them with appropriate services, according to a recent UNESCO report.

Classrooms can also act as a place of transformation for many kids. Becoming educated can help one become a well-rounded person and gain a foundation of learning, which is a big step in helping one stand on his or her own feet.

This is even more important for refugee girls. Educating these girls empowers them and reduces the number of girls getting married at a very young age. This is a massive problem for girls in developing countries, where one in three girls is married before the age of 18.

Solving such a problem requires commitment, time and effort. This is just what the UNESCO partnership is hoping to accomplish by supporting refugee girls, raising their confidence and shaping their future.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr

Girls in South Africa

As computers proliferate, an estimated 1.4 million jobs in computer sciences will be available in the next 10 years. However, there are only 400,000 graduates available to fill them. This is why it is becoming increasingly important for young people — particularly young women — to learn to code.

Code for Cape Town has partnered with the U.S. Consulate to offer a two-day Power of Coding Workshop for high school girls. The coding workshop is valued at 300 rand (USD$22.44) but learners are invited to attend for free.

The workshop will be located in one of the city’s libraries. Space will offer a coffee bar, free Wi-Fi, a laptop bank, an editing suite and green screen technology at no cost to the public. The Power of Coding Workshop in Cape Town will last three hours and will introduce learners to what coding is. It will also teach learners how coding may apply to their interests and potential career paths.

Learners will have the opportunity to code their first project. At the end of the session, they will take a test to determine if they qualify for Code for Cape Town’s full learning program. This program includes code classes, visits to tech companies, and the chance to meet inspiring women in tech.

What is Coding, and why is it important?

According to Linda Liukas, the co-founder of a coding workshop called Rail Girls,  “coding is the literacy of the 21st century.”

Essentially, coding is telling a computer what to do. The process involves typing in step-by-step instructions for the computer to follow.

Computational thinking is the collection of diverse problem-solving skills related to writing software. It is important because it teaches learners to efficiently tackle large problems by breaking them down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable problems. Even fields as diverse as mechanical engineering, fluid mechanics, physics, biology, archaeology and music are applicable to this computational approach.

“Our world is increasingly run by software and we need more diversity in the people who are building it,” says Liukas. “More importantly, writing software is about expression, creativity, and practical application.”

This is why the Power of Coding workshop in Cape Town will be instrumental in empowering young women in South Africa. Not only will it teach young women the basics of coding, but it will teach them to apply this knowledge to any number of future career paths — knowledge that is indispensable in light of the growing digital economy.

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr

Women’s HealthAccording to data from Trading Economics, Malawi’s GDP in 2015 totaled $6.57 billion, or 0.01 percent of the global economy. The highest influxes of extremely impoverished Malawians are concentrated in rural areas and face a constant struggle when conceptualizing economic development from agricultural practices.

Established in 1993, the Malawi Children’s Fund has initiated and supported youth in Malawi by developing initiatives that facilitate entrepreneurial, educational and medical facilities. The Green Malata Entrepreneurial Village, one of the fund’s centers for development, provides children with courses in subjects such as renewable energy and information technology, in addition to a tailoring program that manufactures reusable Malawian sanitary pads.

Women and children studying tailoring also construct reusable pads that are then combined into “The School Girl Pack,” consisting of three pads and a pair of underwear, which is then sold for $3.50. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that one in 10 school-aged girls in Africa drop out of school or miss class due to their period. Skills development programs established by the entrepreneurial village are not only providing personal development of individual’s trade abilities but also ensuring a better quality of life for women and children in Malawi.

Access to quality female hygiene products is also vital to beneficial health practices to prevent malfunctions such as leaking, which spreads infection and subsequent sores and rashes. Other organizations such as AFRIpads, locally headquartered in Uganda, distribute sanitary pads to women in dire need of reliable assistance.

The Malawian sanitary pads initiative has also committed to participation in Project 50/50, a trans-regional campaign that aims to facilitate greater political representation of women, as outlined in 2008 Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development. On location, training events are held to empower and educate women to become leaders in local and national government.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in Cameroon: Nurturing Opportunity and Choice
Education in Cameroon, although constitutionally guaranteed, falls short in execution. Undeniable disparities hinder educational access for poor, disabled, indigenous and refugee children, particularly disadvantaged girls. Issues ranging from sexual harassment, unplanned pregnancies and early marriages to domestic chores and socio-cultural biases proliferate a trend in which fewer girls attend primary schools than boys. Incongruences between male and female education in Cameroon exacerbate the growing movement of students leaving the country to study and live elsewhere that has been termed the “brain drain.”

Rectifying this gender discrepancy can boost individuals’ capacities for financial autonomy as well as improve the state of the nation overall.

Less than 50 percent of Cameroonian girls attend primary school, and the average adult has only 5.9 years of education under his or her belt. There are many, however, who are working to change that.

The ShineALight Africa initiative was inspired by one Cameroonian woman, Nsaigha Thecla, who risked her livelihood and security to give her daughter the education she had never attained. Borrowing, investing and selling all she had, her children received an uncommonly good education in Cameroon. Years later, Nsaigha’s granddaughter, Leila Kigha, founded ShineALight Africa in that spirit.

ShineALight Africa mobilizes individual women into a cooperative through which they can sell their farm produce as a group, and the profits are dedicated to keeping local community children in school. Participation fosters the skills to help women gain financial autonomy, which provides previously non-existent options regarding marriage and domesticity.

Self-sufficiency and personal livelihood are certainly not all there is to be gained through more available education. Many claim that national security is at stake when education is inaccessible, for “an educated population doesn’t give away to extremism.” As a military campaign against Boko Haram rages in northern Cameroon, mosques in the south resist the spread of Islamist insurgency by providing girls’ education. The director of the Grande Mosque in Briquerterie, Mohaman Saminou, claims girls are at the greatest risk of being radicalized due to their lack of education.

To that end, his mosque provides free classes to girls every weekend in subjects like computer science, sewing and the Qur’an. Other mosques, like the Yaoundé Central Mosque, follow suit, providing girls’ classes in French, English and Arabic to promote the notion of “bilingualism as a gateway to quality education and sustainable development.” This work should broaden opportunities and choices for Cameroonian girls, consequently decrease the likelihood of radicalization.

Improving education in Cameroon can hugely impact both individual lives and national wellbeing. The ability to make financial and social choices is essential to the welfare of the people and the state to which they belong.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr

Day of the Girl ChildOn October 11, the U.N. celebrated its annual Day of the Girl Child, which focuses on advancing the status of girls worldwide by celebrating their potential when combating the forces that endanger and repress them, such as child marriage, education inequality and health issues.

Since its inception in 2011, the Day of the Girl Child centers on a different topic each year. In 2016, the theme “Girls’ Progress = Goals Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement,” emphasizes the use of technological advances to acquire comprehensive data on girls worldwide, their unique struggles and the forces that oppress them.

In an address at the U.N. headquarters on October 11, 2016, Executive Director of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka spoke on the importance of this movement: “Working with our partners, we are supporting countries to strengthen national capacity and systems to collect, analyse and disseminate gender data to improve statistics on priority issues for girls — including gender-based violence, adolescent pregnancy and reproductive health, informal employment, entrepreneurship, and unpaid work.”

Much of the U.N.’s efforts regarding the Day of the Girl Child centers on the practice of child, early and forced marriage, all of which remain prevalent issues in the world’s poorest countries.

Child marriage not only leaves psychological and physical scars that inhibit girls from personal fulfillment but also perpetuates cycles of poverty that trap families in situations with little or no education, economic disadvantages and poor health conditions.

Families often seek the temporary financial relief of a “bride price,” money given to them in exchange for marriage to their daughter. This practice, however, only continues the cyclical nature of poverty in their communities – it denies girls the opportunity for education, and ultimately, cripples new and developing families in the same way.

The other option — education for girls — helps to solve this long-term problem. A girl who has received just one additional year of primary education is 15 percent more likely to boost their future earnings, and this figure only increases with each additional year of education.

The U.N. has already made some advancements in the for fight for girls’ equality. After drawn-out and passionate lobbying in Malawi, the country passed the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act in 2015, which restricts the age of marriage without parental consent to 18.

Thanks to advancements in data collection, the lives of girls and women across the globe may now be much easier to improve. U.N. Women has continued to push for the end of child marriage, and thus, a step toward ending deeply entrenched poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries. As U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri phrased it, “Humanity can’t afford to lose half of the world’s creativity, passion and work. When you invest in a girl everyone benefits.”

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr