Improving girls’ and young women’s access to education in Africa has been on the mainstream development agenda for decades because this investment has a great potential to cut back poverty in the continent.
Empowering the girl child in Africa through education has notably made an impact in terms of giving women a space to reign, especially through increasing access to economic opportunities for women.
This investment cuts across generations, with the ripple effect being impacted businesses and social communities.
Despite challenges in raising resources to cater for approximately 60% of young African girls’ education, different associations have taken upon them to help in the empowerment of these girls through education.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 calls for countries to achieve peaceful and inclusive societies while reducing all forms of violence.
However, over the past years, conflict trends in Africa have left many girls in rescue camps as refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), denying them the chance to get an education.
A recent study by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shows that 118.5 million adolescent girls are out of school, which accounts for a 3% exclusion rate compared to the number of boys accessing quality education.
In Africa, a total of 129 million girls do not have access to education; 32 million are in (should be in) primary schools and 97 million in secondary schools.
In Kenya, the gender gap in education is wide, with women accounting for one-third of high school enrollment, which means that for every two boys enrolled in high school, only one girl is enrolled.
Impacting the African girl child
Promoting girls’ education is a multifaceted undertaking that requires concerted efforts for wholesome empowerment.
The Scholar Media Africa interviewed some impactful women in Africa who are helping girls in the continent to rise and rule by empowering them in education, entrepreneurship and otherwise.
The Girls’ Empowerment for Leadership Association (GELA), a self-funded organization, has identified gaps that need filling by the national governments and other deciders, such as the media, to support the education of young girls in Africa fully.
GELA is in its fourth year of service to young girls in the crisis zones of Cameroon and other parts of Africa.
Maneng’s Patricia, the Founder of GELA, terms the exclusion of girls from equitable education access as a betrayal.
This pushed her to fight for justice for these marginalized girls.
Patricia is a multi-award-winning woman activist, Girl child empowerment champion, and Head of Board of Girls Empowerment for Leadership Association, among many other hats on her head.
“Young girls are the future, letting this inequality happen will change nothing. These girls need to be empowered for leadership; to lead and to raise leaders. We need to work hand in hand to reduce educational exclusion as we work towards the bigger goal, which is to stop it,” Patricia told Scholar Media.
Since it came to life in 2019, GELA has worked closely with Ministries in the Cameroonian Government, the African Women Summit, and the German Embassy in Cameroon, among others, to hold advocacy sessions and raise awareness of leaders in these communities.
The call has been for the leaders to take action against harmful practices toward girls.
“Our aim as GELA is to majorly empower young girls at national and international levels; to stop scourges such as gender-based violence, early marriages and pregnancies, pimping, prostitution and the spread of STIs and AIDS among our girls,” Patricia explains.
Securing Kenyan girls
In line with liberating adolescents from harmful practices through education, Melvine Ouyo founded the Hope for Kenya Slum Adolescents Initiative (HKSAI) in 2018.
She had witnessed gender-based violence while growing up in Kenya’s Busia County.
Ouyo is a health policy expert and a reproductive health provider, and a RH rights advocate.
The initiative helps girls and young people in Kibera slums, Nairobi.
HKSAI has advanced economic opportunities for young girls who initially worked as sex workers by training them in income-generating skills such as soap and detergent making.
“Youth in Kibera need counselling and skill development to keep them off the streets. We have taken in girls who are forced into early marriages, teen moms, and drug addicts.
We have helped them make something out of their lives,” Jackline Moraa, a volunteer at HKSAI told Scholar Media.
Ouyo, the founder and now an expert in reproductive health, says that empowerment through education is not necessarily formal education.
Girls need financial literacy and skill development to ensure they are on the same ground in economic growth.
“Education has many forms; we try to be all round to invest in their health, skills training, life skills and job prospects,” stated Ouyo.
Obstacles African girls face seeking quality, equitable education
In a report from a recent program dubbed Girls Empowerment Through Education: Keeping 1,500 girls in school, a program funded by the Global Fund to fight HIV, Tuberculosis and malaria in the western region of Cameroon, 1500 young girls between the age of 15 and 24 were empowered.
By paying their tuition fees, accommodation, and food supplies and offering them psychological support, they were capacitated to continue with their education.
Despite the success rate of this program, a 10% dropout was witnessed.
Patricia led the research process and implementation of this program.
From its immense success, she was recently awarded as a Girl Child Empowerment Champion for her unwavering efforts in maintaining the girls from a crisis zone in Morocco.
She explains that even though the giant factor is financial constraints, other factors keep girls out of school.
“The program was generally a success; 90% of the girls successfully transitioned to the next class. However, there are community cultures and gender discrimination factors that hinder women empowerment, especially through education,” she expounded.
Extent of hindrance
Africa is rich in its cultural heritage and most communities go by their day-to-day activities while referring to their cultures.
“My mother was only 16 when she gave birth to me; our culture was okay with early marriages and teenage pregnancies. It is hard for some communities to invest in an education for the girl child because it is not familiar to them,” she opened up.
Harmful cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriages have dimmed hope for a better future for many girls in Africa and especially in rural areas.
While Standard Development Goal (SDG) 4 strives to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, the notion that most teachers hold that boys are academically better than girls could kill the students’ morale.
Gender bias and occupational segregation, where some careers are male-dominated, have been an obstacle to the realization of equitable quality education.
During the pandemic, GELA mentored both boys and girls in most parts of Cameroon, especially in IDP camps.
Patricia explains that girls need more empowerment for them to stand on equal ground with their male counterparts.
“GELA has helped young boys in IDP camps before. However, currently, the beneficiaries of GELA are young women.
It is important for us to raise awareness among our mothers, sisters and wives about the harmful effects of abuse on young girls,” said Patricia.
The way forward
On February 12, 2023, GELA held a virtual discussion to dissect the ‘Role of Education in Girls’ Empowerment Process.
It was clear that it all lies in how much that a people can do for their country over what the country can do for its people.
“We need to bring the change from the bottom as it is unlikely to come from the top any time soon,” Mr. Abdel Kader Mohammed Ben, a professor of International Relations and a panelist in the session, said.
In her part, Ouyo explained that the way forward is by changing education policies so as to cater for the vulnerable girls in informal settlements on the continent.
“I have struggled with my education because my family was against girl empowerment through education. Women are brought up to be submissive and naïve, but with the support, we get to heights beyond limits,” she observed.
Ouyo explained the need for sensitization to fight the harmful practices that have greatly challenged girls’ empowerment in African schools.
She stated that organizations and partners should develop manuals and training on other minor obstacles, such as socialization enhanced by existing dominant religious and belief systems, structural factors, gender biases, economic challenges, and policy environments, among other limitations.
The panelists also called upon inter-governmental collaborations with different secretariats to implement interventions such as national laws on gender and on partnerships for funding and donations.
Presently, the Commonwealth secretariat has partnered with Google in Africa in a project to bridge the digital divide between girls and women.
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Other influential names hosted in the advocacy session by GELA include Mrs. Odilia R. Hebga Lead of external affairs at World Bank, Mrs. Chinazo Ukaejiofor, a gender specialist at Commonwealth Secretariat London and Mrs. Precious Sibalo who is a certified commercial pilot and gender activist in Zimbabwe.
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