Examples of recent practice
Here are some examples of recent practice:
Social and cultural contexts play a major role in limiting girls’ access to education. Therefore, the only way to improve girls’ access to education is to engage the family, wider community and other locally powerful people. In Narok District, Kenya, it was important to involve the local community leaders, police, and government institutions, to get them to think critically about girls’ education, and the issues which prevented them from accessing schooling. For example, the link with the police was crucial in preventing early marriages, a key factor leading to girls dropping out of school.
However, it is also important to work with the girls themselves, to strengthen their voice and their demands for education. ActionAid Kenya initiated a girls’ forum, which linked girls in school with girls out of school, so that they could exchange experiences and look for ways to increase access to education. Girls need to know that they are important in society, and that education is their right.
This initiative was also supported by women’s groups in 60 villages across the region. These groups have been functioning for about three years and use R e f l e c t to look at issues of women’s empowerment, income generation and adult literacy. Through participation in the groups, the women are empowered to challenge their husbands and the wider community on the importance of girls’ education. This pressure at the household level has contributed enormously to girls' ability to access schooling. Unfortunately, there are still wider issues that need to be tackled. The lack of school infrastructure in pastoralist communities, and the continuing practice of female genital mutilation, are two issues which ActionAid Kenya will be focusing on in taking this work forward.
Roselyn Odhiambo, a teacher at Sirimba Primary School in Busia District commented:
‘Having the girls in school throughout the year had become such an uphill task. At one point we were blaming the girls whom we felt didn’t want to take their studies seriously. But I later realised that I needed to understand the girls better and get to know what really affects their education. The idea of bringing the girls together in their own forum has given me the opportunity to understand them better. When the idea of the forums began, the girls were too shy to speak. They feared talking about what affected them. They thought they would be victimised by their parents or teachers. But as time went by, the girls began to open up’.
Because of the multiple discriminations they face, strengthening girls’ education does not just mean getting girls into school, but also ensuring that they have access to information and places that have traditionally excluded women. In Nigeria, the Federation of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) organised a series of excursions to interesting sites and institutions around Lagos and other activities for 48 girls from primary and secondary schools in Lagos State. This included a visit to an independent television station where they met newscasters and learned about the processes involved in television broadcasting. The girls also visited the
Lagos State House of Assembly, where they sat in and observed proceedings in the House. They had the opportunity to talk to the clerk and speaker of the House. Initiatives such as these can help young people realise the range of opportunities available to them through education, while also increasing their understanding of the world around them and their right to participate in it.
In a similar initiative in Ghana, a girls’ camp is run annually. Girls spend ten days together and discuss issues such as sexual reproductive health. They also have the opportunity to meet female role models, visit education, health, tourist and industrial establishments and have a chance to share and learn together, to build confidence and aspirations for their future. While the camps have been very successful ActionAid Ghana have realised the need to work with boys also to retain girls in school.
A lack of female teachers reinforces prejudice against girls’ education. ActionAid worked with Novib in Nigeria to look at this issue. The programme worked with girls, the SMC and the local education authority to demand more female teachers. They also linked to the national teachers’ union and the State University Basic Education Scheme. By engaging with such a range of actors the message was spread widely, and the number of female teachers has increased in the area, providing role models for the children, and challenging traditional stereotypes of who a teacher is.
Getting the support of mothers for girls’ education is key in increasing enrolment, and ensuring completion of schooling for girls. So, in Malawi, Deeper Christian Life Ministry (a faith based organisation) supported the formation of mothers’ groups. These groups were given training on government policies relating to girls’ education, such as the re-admittance policies, which enable girls to return to school if they have dropped out for any reason. The mothers' groups then engaged with diverse community structures and education stakeholders, as well as with girls themselves to increase the number of girls in schools. The work of the mothers' groups has led to widespread community change. For example, the community has changed the cultural practice of using school girls to escort funerals to the graveyard; they have formed local by-laws to ensure parents send their girls to school; they have worked with the schools to ensure the government policy of readmission is implemented; worked with the village headmen and political leaders to reduce early marriage; reactivated the school management committee and parent teachers association through interacting with them regularly and developing stronger relationships with the teachers. However, there are still many challenges – both because the school structures (SMCs and PTAs) are weak and unaware of their responsibilities; and because it is very difficult to challenge cultural practices – for example, the initiation ceremony, which takes two weeks, and still clashes with the school calendar.
In The Gambia efforts have been focused primarily on capacity-building programmes for female teachers, to equip them with the skills to promote enrolment, retention and academic achievement of girls in schools, especially in rural areas. The programme included ideas of gender mainstreaming as well as raising awareness on government provisions for girls’ education. The impact of this work was extended further by encouraging the teachers to run a similar training workshop at local level to create awareness among parents and communities on the importance of enrolling, retaining and allowing girls to complete the basic education cycle. This training targeted parents, female teachers, PTAs, members of Mothers’ Clubs, some opinion leaders and student leaders from different schools.
ActionAid worked with FAWE to tackle violence against girls in schools. This was a broad-reaching initiative which involved PTAs, SMCs, mothers’ groups and local leaders. The idea was to empower these groups to take an active role in protecting girls from violent behaviour in their respective areas. One result of this intervention was that the traditional authority banned the practice whereby girls are subjected to having sex with old men when they reach puberty. In addition to this work, FAWE also used the concept of Tilankhule (Let us speak out) borrowed from Tanzania, to work with the girls themselves to express their views and opinions on obstacles they face. This involved a series of school workshops, which were facilitated by teachers and brought together members of the community and school pupils. In the workshops girls conducted panel discussions to identify factors hampering their education and suggest possible solutions.