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GuyanaIn April 2018, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), an international organization devoted to advancing childhood education, reaffirmed its commitment to improving education in Guyana with a $1.7 million grant. This grant intends to strengthen the Early Childhood Education Program, which strives to improve literacy and numeracy levels in several remote regions of the country. Backed by the GPE and The World Bank, this grant will also positively contribute to girls’ education in Guyana.

Literacy and Numeracy Results

The results of these efforts are notable in literacy and numeracy scores among nursery school students. The percentage of students attaining a level of “approaching mastery” or higher in emergent literacy assessments rose from 39.58 percent to 68.30 percent between 2016 and 2017. Similar gains occurred in emergent numeracy levels, in which the percentage of students achieving a level of “approaching mastery” or higher rose from 41.91 percent in 2016 to 77.03 percent in 2017. These gains indicate significant improvements in boys’ and girls’ education in Guyana.

A Gender Gap in Education

According to certain indicators, girls’ education in Guyana has grown stronger than boys’ education. In June, the University of Guyana hosted a symposium on the underperformance of boys in the Guyanese education system. During the symposium, Dr. Mairette Newman, representative of The Commonwealth of Learning, noted three key statistics, which indicate a widening gender gap in Guyanese education:

  1. Girls outperform boys in literacy tests, once they transition into higher grade levels.
  2. Boys are more likely to drop out of secondary school than their female counterparts. (In early education, the ratio of boys to girls is one to one. However, at the secondary school level, the ratio is two to one, in favor of girls).
  3. Boys are less likely to transition into tertiary education programs.

According to Dr. Newman, girls normally have an advantage, since teachers prefer “female” qualities in the classroom, such as the ability to work well in groups and be introspective. All of these factors contribute to girls outpacing boys in the Guyanese education system.

Gender Barriers

While the symposium touched on this gender inequality in education, it did not address how these inequalities and gendered expectations also affect girls’ education in Guyana or limit girls in society. Though growing numbers of Guyanese women succeed in school and participate actively in public life, significant gender-related barriers still exist.

The Guyana Empowered Peoples Action Network (GEPAN) explains that children take on specific gender roles early in life. While girls take on household tasks, society encourages boys to be independent, as future “providers.” These gender roles continue into adulthood and expose women to limitations and violence in Guyana. For example, in 2014, UNICEF reported that at least one-third of Guyanese women experience sexual violence. These barriers and violence make it difficult for women to reach their full social and economic potential.

Women’s Empowerment

Luckily, Guyana’s First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger, has already begun to address these gender-related issues. Last month, she held a Girls’ Empowerment Workshop, designed to inspire and empower girls (ages 10-15), encouraged girls to pursue non-traditional career paths and fight through prejudices to achieve their goals. As the First Lady emphasized, education is the first step to empowerment for women, which will strengthen economic development. For the First Lady, women’s empowerment and girls’ education in Guyana are crucial to the future success of Guyana. This movement for women’s empowerment also goes beyond the First Lady’s initiatives.

In April 2018, the Ministry of Public Telecommunications launched a program for girls and women in Information and Communications Technology, a field dominated by males in Guyana. The program, Guyanese Girls Code, is a free, three-month course which teaches beginning coding and programming to girls (ages 11-14). Over forty girls enrolled in the initial class. According to Cathy Hughes, the Minister of Public Telecommunications, the classes strive to bring women into the ICT sector and give them opportunities to gain the education they’ll need to succeed. Hughes hopes that bringing girls into the ICT sector will offer new perspectives and talent, which will be crucial for advancing Guyanese society.

Thus, education and women’s empowerment in Guyana are intimately linked. For women’s empowerment to advance in Guyana, education must remain a priority. With the support of organizations such as GPE and World Bank, Guyanese leaders strive to continue strengthening education and addressing gender inequalities in the classroom and society.

– Morgan Harden
Photo: Flickr

Women Entrepreneurs in Rwanda: Overcoming Barriers
In Africa, women entrepreneurs are rare. They struggle to obtain loans from banks and do not receive the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts because of traditional views that the role of women is in the home.

A disproportionate percentage of women applied to the Anzisha Prize this year— only 27%. The Anzisha prize provides young entrepreneurs with funding.

However, Rwanda defied this norm in 2015 as 60% of applicants to the Anzisha prize in Rwanda were women this year.

This reflects Rwanda’s recent efforts to empower women. In 1994, Rwanda experienced a devastating genocide; 70% of the population was female. Today, Rwanda still has a higher percentage of women in their population. For this reason, President Paul Kagame has implemented initiatives to support women in business, education and politics.

Of note, Rwanda’s parliament has more women than men. “It is exciting to see Rwanda take such progressive steps. Women empowerment has considerable benefits for any economy’s growth and development, and we hope that other African countries follow Rwanda’s example,” explained Grace Kalisha, senior program manager at the African Leadership Academy to How We Made it In Africa.

Four outstanding female Rwandan applicants to the Anzisha Prize, including Gisele Iradukunda, Henriette Dukunde, Alice Igiraneza and Nancy Sibo are featured below.

Radio Stations in Bus Stops

Twenty-year-old Gisele Iradukunda founded Radio Gare Project, a company that installs radio speakers in bus stations to communicate important messages to commuters.

Iradukunda realized bus companies would pay to have a radio system installed so they can provide information to bus users. Other companies can advertise their products to a large group of people waiting at a bus stop.

Her first sound system was installed in Nyamata, a town in southeast Rwanda. She obtained a bank loan, then placed speakers in four corners of the bus station. Today people can hear the sound in a 500-meter radius around the speakers.

Since then, Iradukunda has installed speakers at two more bus stations and hopes to put them in every station in Rwanda in the future.

Iradukunda also uses the bus station radios to notify the public about HIV prevention and healthcare issues. “The District also uses our radio to pass on information about events, meetings and all other affairs that they would like the public to attend,” said Iradukunda.

Rice Cooperative to Support Women

In 2013, Henriette Dukunde, a twenty-one-year-old biology student, co-founded the Rice Project. It is located in Huye, southern Rwanda, and supports over fifty women in a farming cooperative.

The Rice Project places the women farmers into four groups. Each group receives a piece of land, seeds, fertilizer, and other farming materials so they can grow and harvest rice in Nyanza marshlands.

65% of profits goes to the cooperative, and the rest supports the sustainability of the Project.

“The Rice Project has improved the lives of poor vulnerable women. It has both created jobs for them and enabled them to afford their basic daily needs,” explained Dukunde.

Health and Nutrition Promotion at University of Rwanda

Alice Igiraneza, a twenty-one-year-old medical student at the University of Rwanda, started the restaurant Kiza. The restaurant promotes healthy eating at her university by providing a section of healthy options for students and staff at the University of Rwanda.

The restaurant’s goal is to educate the public about diet and nutrition and to fight diseases like diabetes. The restaurant currently serves food to around three hundred people, and provides twenty medical students from impoverished families with employment.

“We pay them a salary of $60 a month and provide them with food so that they can continue their studies and become good doctors for the future well-being of the population,” said Igiraneza.

Along with her restaurant, Igiraneza is the head of a consultation center that teaches students and staff about health and nutrition.

Accessories from Recycled Drinking Straws

In 2013, twenty-one-year-old Nancy Sibo founded Miheha Straw Bags. The company is a social enterprise that manufactures purses, earrings, and belts from recycled plastic drinking straws.

“In developing countries like Rwanda, garbage collection and recycling services are often not available or are inadequate. We have decided to turn waste into opportunity for the enterprise, the environment and for the women,” explained Sibo.

Sibo provides training for women so they can make a living through the company. “Suzanne is a young mother who joined Miheha in 2013 when she was extremely poor with no access to some basics of life. But, through the trainings she received from our initiative, she has changed her life and is now training other women at our enterprise,” said Sibo.

Margaret Anderson

Sources: Anzisha Prize, How We Made It in Africa
Photo: Venture Burn