Girls’ Education in Benin

Benin had set tremendous precedence after The Cold War ended by being one of the first African nations to democratize. Its successful democratic system has since allowed Benin to achieve relative economic stability; however, it still suffers from high infant and maternal mortality rates as well as women’s illiteracy.

Barriers to Girls’ Education in Benin

Girls’ education in Benin has been hindered by factors such as illnesses, extreme poverty and illiteracy. As the world becomes more and more technologically driven, the economic development of a country is directly affected by low levels of literacy. Poverty, coupled with the high costs of education, creates limited opportunities for girls to acquire a quality education in Benin and succeed in life.

Other major issues that Benin is facing regarding education are the high rates of teacher absenteeism and the limited resources to effectively manage the educational system. Along with these overarching issues, Beninese girls are disproportionately burdened with traditional gender roles. The traditional division of domestic labor typically calls for girls to stay at home and work, which has led to the traditional belief that an education is irrelevant to a girl’s reality. In Benin, the male literacy rate between the ages 15 and 24 is about 55 percent while the female literacy rate in the same age group is about 30 percent.

Improvements to Girls’ Education in Benin

An education population serves as the backbone of every nation. In Benin, improvement has been their top priority. The former president of Benin, Yayi Boni, took very important steps in developing the national education system and ensuring that girls had the resources they needed to go to school by enacting certain measures between the years 2006 and 2013.

A few of President Boni’s measures included ensuring free and universal primary education for all children, tuition support for girls pursuing a secondary education and partial support of enrollment fees for girls who are in industrial science and technology fields.

Partnerships for Education

International organizations such as the United Nations, The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNICEF have all worked with the government of Benin to ensure that girls’ education in Benin is prioritized. Thus far, these partnerships have produced impressive results.

The United Nation’s main objective with this initiative was to mobilize the government of Benin and develop partners to improve the quality and availability of education, confront traditional gender norms surrounding girls’ education in Benin and help economically struggling parents afford the direct and indirect costs of school.

In 2016, the GPE approved a $428,794 grant for Benin to develop its education sector. This plan was implemented in 2017 and is set to end in 2025. The Education Sector Plan Development Grant will allow Benin to conduct a sector-wide analysis of the educational system in Benin.

UNICEF and Big Sistering

A creative UNICEF-supported program called “Big Sistering” was also established in Benin to make the typically long walk from home to school a little more enjoyable. The older girls who are considered “big sisters” not only make sure that the younger girls get to school every day but also have the added responsibility of advocating for the importance of going to school.

If a girl does not come to school one day, it is the big sister’s duty to find out why and report it back to the headmaster. Big sisters also keep a lookout for girls who are not enrolled in school and encourage them to attend. Often times, parents keep their girls home from school to work on farms or tend to animals. In these cases, the parent-teacher association contacts the parents in hopes of finding ways to overcome these barriers.

Through the collaboration of international organizations and the government of Benin, gross enrollment rates for primary education rose from 93 percent to 121 percent, the primary school completion rate increased from 65 percent to 77 percent and gender parity has almost been achieved.

To support these developments, Benin plans to continue its efforts in increasing the education budget. Increasing the budget will not only improve access to secondary education but also the quality of learning and equity at all levels of education.

– Lolontika Hoque

Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Mauritania

Mauritania is a deeply divided and struggling country. Slavery has only recently been legally abolished, about 20 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day and over half of adults are illiterate. Although one of the biggest threats to Mauritania remains the increasing influence of Al Qaeda, poverty and lack of female educational opportunities are some of the worst perils facing Mauritanians in their daily lives. To understand the current reality of girls’ education in Mauritania, it is first necessary to know where the country has been.

Mauritania’s History

Initially settled by Berbers and Arabs in the 3rd century A.D., Mauritania was a trading and transport hub for connecting West Africa to the Maghreb. In the 1850s, France came to control the territory militarily, leading a brutal regime of oppression. This regime left those living in the area profoundly divided between Arabs and Berbers and subjugated to subhuman conditions. By 1904, France formally established Mauritania as a colony, and in 1920, Mauritania became part of French West Africa and was subsequently administered by Senegal. Mauritania became an overseas territory in 1946; by 1958, the country was self-governing and became independent in 1960. 

Shortly after Mauritania gained independence, a series of elections, coups and race riots took place through much of the latter 20th century. The elections and coups slowed to a considerably slower pace in the 2000s and the subsequent decade, providing Mauritania with some semblance of stability. This stability was vital; it allowed outside organizations such as the U.N. and UNICEF to offer much-needed assistance to the battered nation of 3.7 million. Between 2000 and 2007, for example, literacy declined nearly 8 points. This was primarily due to the Mauritanian government’s failure to dedicate any time, money or resources to education.

Successes in Education

While Mauritania has had significant struggles with education, there have been signs of improvement and cases of success. For example, the NGO Global Partnership for Education (GPE) began funding the Mauritania Basic Education Sector Support Project. Over the course of this program, gross enrollment rates increased from 88 percent to 97 percent and completion rates rose from 53 percent to 71 percent between 2001 and 2012. Girls’ education in Mauritania also improved significantly; 21,168 adolescent females have been enrolled in lower secondary education in 2016, as opposed to 7,400 in 2014. 

UNICEF has also forged a partnership with the Mauritanian government to promote education and provide resources for schools. This national partnership was reached following the success of UNICEF’s initial mission in the country. The new goal of UNICEF and the Mauritanian government is to achieve universal access and completion of secondary education for all Mauritanian children.

The Importance of Female Education

It is critical to recognize why female education in Mauritania is so important beyond the educational aspects. Girls’ education has been shown to lead to female empowerment. In a country so bitterly divided and struggling with social progress, support for women’s empowerment is a vital aspect. Improving education in Mauritania also improves poverty in the country. The United Nations Girls Education Initiative reports that many young girls in Mauritania face dire poverty. Since only 53 percent of households have access to clean water, disease is common, and there is insufficient access to vaccinations. Girls’ education provides access to schools, which in turn provides access to the water and medicine many desperately need.

While the challenges to girls’ education in Mauritania are plentiful and can seem immense, much headway has been made in recent years. With organizations like the U.N., UNICEF, and GPE working with the government, there is significant improvement on the horizon for girls’ education in Mauritania.

– Sam Kennedy
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Indonesia
Girls’ education in Indonesia is promising. In 2014, the World Bank noted that Indonesia’s education system is Asia’s third largest and the world’s fourth largest. Moreover, in 2016, the literacy rate for females between the ages of 15 and 24 was 99.65 percent. What makes Indonesia’s education system most noteworthy, however, is the response to Indonesia’s 2006 earthquake and the continuing developments in girls’ education.

Effects of the Yogyakarta Earthquake on Girls’ Education in Indonesia

After the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2006, approximately 1,000 schools were destroyed and 6,234 people were killed in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia. In response, organizations such as the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative expanded their efforts to improve girls’ education in Indonesia. In accordance with the Indonesia Earthquake 2006 Response Plan, school tents were provided by USAID, Save the Children, UNICEF and the Japanese government.

In cases of emergency, such as Indonesia’s Java earthquake, there are distinct benefits that education provides children. According to UNICEF, “Schools can protect children from the physical dangers around them…and also provide children with other lifesaving interventions, such as food, water, sanitation and health.”

In 2016, UNESCO recorded that 1.5 million Indonesia girls were not enrolled in school. Furthermore, according to UNICEF’s education fact sheet, only 40 percent of Indonesian girls aged 15 to 24 learn about HIV prevention measures and only 23 percent use condoms regularly. Also, 85 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 hold misconceptions or have no knowledge of HIV/AIDS.

Ongoing Efforts to Develop Girls’ Education

To improve these numbers, education and health services are targeted at the early childhood education level. The World Bank explained that “better-prepared children are less likely to repeat grades.” It has also been shown, according to the World Bank, that early childhood education is associated with healthier and better-educated children.

Since its formation in 2001, the Directorate for Early Childhood Education Program of the Ministry of Education and Culture seeks to provide education programs incorporated with health services. For example, the program implements day care centers and play groups for young children.

Programs such as this are made possible through a partnership with the World Bank. The initiative also addresses teacher training, as more than 60 percent of teachers have only a high school diploma or two years of college education. Teachers are recruited from Indonesian communities and are trained in early childhood development. As a result of efforts made by the Directorate for Early Childhood Education Program, Indonesia won the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2016.

The project focused on instilling confidence and resilience within girls from birth to age eight. UNESCO reports that girls’ educational attainment levels can be strengthened through gender mainstreaming, which avoids gender stereotypes within the curriculum. More specifically, the project addressed children, parents, teachers and school administrators using specialized early childhood education training and workshops.

Education for girls is progressing. Timely responses were made after the 2006 earthquake when children’s schooling was disrupted. Educational aid and reform did not stop there, however, as the Early Childhood Education Program furthered recent improvements to communal learning and healthcare. These education programs demonstrate that increased opportunities for girls’ education in Indonesia are crucial for alleviating poverty. Girls with higher levels of education are more likely to have children later and their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS is lowered. Education is vital to their quality of life.

– Christine Leung
Photo: Flickr

What Is the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative?

Thirty-one million school-aged girls are not in school, and 17 million of them are likely never going to be. Almost 60% of those who do not complete primary school are girls, and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are female.

The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) is an organization formed 17 years ago out of Dakar, Senegal. Then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan founded the initiative to improve the educational opportunities for girls and gender equality across the globe.

The UNGEI is in partnership with 24 other organizations including Campaign for Female Education (Campfed), The Commonwealth Secretariat and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The value in these partnerships contributes to the efficiency and functionality of the legal movement of these organizations’ collective goals via resident policymakers. By expanding its network through partnership, the presence of the organization is strengthened and enables the project to improve conditions globally by working locally.

All stakeholders in the UNGEI promote change through policy advocacy. According to their website, UNGEI cites these four crucial focuses as targets:

  1. The enhancement of marginalized groups.
  2. The prevention of gender-motivated violence in schools.
  3. A brighter future through education for girls.
  4. Continuation of school for girls.

These goals are accomplished through policy solutions that involve gender issues in education. UNGEI actively advocates to chief platforms that influence education policy and funding allocation.

In 2003, Annan stated that, “if we are to succeed in our efforts to build a more healthy, peaceful and equitable world, the classrooms of the world have to be full of girls as well as boys.” A growing economy and the formal education of girls are positively correlated. The prevention of HIV/AIDS and a decreased occurrence of infant and maternal mortality are guaranteed when more girls are educated, Annan argues.

A 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report found that if all mothers completed primary school education, maternal deaths would decrease by two-thirds. Furthermore, there would be a 15% reduction in child deaths, and malnutrition would affect 1.7 million fewer children.

On March 8, 2017, UNGEI and Global Partnership for Education launched the Guidance for Developing Gender-Responsive Education Sector Plans. This outline helps guide developing nations toward a gender-sensitive educational environment. UNGEI has greatly contributed to the increase in children attending school.

Today, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative continues to strive toward its mission’s core values. Data suggests that by 2050, only five countries will have a rate of above 20% of the population receiving no education, and with continued work by the UNGEI, perhaps these countries can someday reach a 100% education rate.

Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr