By Nadia Ahidjo, Program Manager, Girls’ Education in Emergencies in Sub-Saharan Africa
As we look at most public projections for 2021 and prospects for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I think the most depressing bit of news is that if we continue as we are, all girls will only get to go to primary school in 2050. Despite numerous commitments to the girl child in the SDGs, the many laws and policies that governments have enacted, and the significant resources that go towards education for all; far fewer girls are in school and learning than should be. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 30 percent of primary school-age girls are out of school.
When one thinks about countries faced with conflict, terrorism, and fragility, the picture worsens. On the African continent, there appears to be no end in sight to the instability disrupting girls’ education. 2020 was supposed to be a landmark year for the African Union to “silence the guns” and put an end to conflict, but current trends tell a completely different story. There are growing, and dare I say it, alarming rates of refugee and internally displaced populations — IDPs were over 5 million by the end of 2019 in West and Central Africa. This is an increase of over 30 per cent in just 12 months. Despite these shocking figures, refugees and IDPs often remain invisible, and are rarely factored into national policies, severely limiting their access to quality education in emergencies. Humanitarian responses provide some stop-gapping, but are limited in their reach; in 2019 only 2.6% of humanitarian aid funding went to education.
This is heightened for girls in patriarchal societies — they are kept out of school in times of crisis and face significant barriers to education and vulnerabilities including child/forced marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, and gender-based violence both in and out of school. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation with school closures and diminishing financing of girls’ education in emergencies. None of these bode well for the future.
The challenge of ensuring access to quality education for girls, even in times of crisis, is further compounded by the lack of data that can help address gaps for both boys and girls, which does not enable the resources that do exist to be tailored to the actual needs on the ground in times of crises. Where the data is available, it is often not leveraged as it should be to ensure policy makers are informed and act accordingly. Recent research by the Agence Francaise de Developpement found that “although data collection on education has expanded enormously in Sub-Saharan Africa, few countries have robust data systems and even fewer are exploiting their data to improve their education systems.”
For Equal Measures 2030, these challenges should encourage us not to despair, but to collaborate with local actors who continue their work with vulnerable women and girls in times of both stability and crisis — especially local women’s rights organisations. By working with local women’s rights organisations, we can leverage the skills and experience of actors who are closely connected to girls and women in affected communities. We can also leverage new approaches to ensuring quality education for girls in emergencies. Through its work with women’s rights organisations in seven countries, Equal Measures 2030 has learned that when partner organisations ground their advocacy in data, they are more likely to reach their influencing goals. For example, EM2030 partner Kapal Perempuan cited the importance of data in their successful advocacy to change the child marriage law for girls in Indonesia. And our partner GROOTS Kenya’s “efforts to improve the availability and use of gender data have been recognised by the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, and they have been invited to play a formal role in the Inter Agency Committee on gender data statistics.” Data can strengthen advocacy as it shows consistent patterns that require attention and action. Data is also useful in identifying effective solutions and can be used to hold governments accountable for their policies and commitments. This is summed up well by a partner respondent to our 2017 survey on capacity development needs: “No matter which route you go down, either using government data or using your own evidence that you produce, for me one of the more important questions is, how do you then use the data, or how do you use the evidence in a way that it’s facilitating you to achieve policy change? And I think that is something that quite a lot of people do need support with.” Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030) supports learning tailored especially for women’s rights organisations about how to understand and use data effectively in advocacy, covering topics including finding and advocating on data gaps and communicating data to different audiences, to name a few.
Cognisant of the power of data in the hands of women’s rights organisations, the Government of Canada, in line with its commitments in the Charlevoix Declaration, and its Feminist International Assistance Foreign policy, is supporting a bold partnership with EM2030 and its partners, FAWE and IPBF[i], based in Kenya and Burkina Faso, to drive equitable and coordinated provision of education for girls and women. Both FAWE and IPBF are renowned as thought leaders and changemakers for girls’ education in their countries, and on the African continent. FAWE aims to empower girls and women through quality education and training to give them necessary skills, competencies, and values to be productive members of their societies. They work to promote gender responsive policies, practices and attitudes and foster innovations that will provide opportunities for African women to prosper in all realms of their lives. IPBF aims to empower women and girls to defend their interests and overcome obstacles. They focus on developing female leadership and agency, especially among girls and young women.
Over the next year, we will work closely with our partners and other stakeholders in both countries to support advocacy and convening, working towards the ultimate goal of ensuring that education systems are data-driven and gender-responsive. This partnership will draw on EM2030’s specialized tools and data like the SDG Gender Index and recent Bending the Curve data. And we’ll also be producing new research and data together, to better understand the data landscape and to map opportunities and challenges for girls’ education in fragile regions of Kenya and Burkina Faso.
On the International Day of Education, we join UNESCO and other stakeholders including the Global Partnership for Education in championing the 2021 theme to ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation’. As we think about fragility through crises, and the ways in which this pandemic has thrown most of our education systems into disarray, it is even more urgent to leverage data to protect and ensure safe, accessible and quality learning spaces for girls.
[i] The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme (IPBF)