Communities Prioritize Girls’ Education

The article, “Invest in girls’ education to break cycle of poverty,” highlights the need for ongoing discussions and innovations to ensure that girls not only attend school, but also stay in school and receive a quality education. A meeting in New Delhi between UNICEF officials and editors in India focused on the fact that in India, 4.5 million girls are not enrolled in school. Rather than discuss failed attempts to improve female education, they shifted the discussion towards innovations in education that are improving girls’ access to school. They discussed community-driven solutions, such as free buses, that provide safe transportation to school for girls.

Like the talks in India, which focused on successful community driven projects, girls’ education in Guinea is improving due to mothers community groups. The article, “In Guinea, groups of mothers work together to keep girls in school,” provides insight into education in Guinea. Only 34% of girls in rural Guinea are enrolled in school and many young girls are forced to work to earn a living. As many of our blog posts have discussed, girls around the world do not attend school because of poverty, distance to school, shortages of teachers, violence, marriage and pregnancies. All of these challenges ring true in Guinea, as well.

To address the multitude of challenges facing girls in Guinea, UNICEF has partnered with mothers in villages to establish comités des mères des élèves filles or COMEFs. The COMEFs are associations of women that work to improve girls’ access to education. In addition to providing education for the girls, the mothers in the association receive training in community mobilization, negotiation and accounting. The associations work to ease parent’s fears about sending their daughters to school, they can address problems that arise in a school and they work with school and community leaders to make education a priority. The COMEFs provide multigenerational educational opportunities, as mothers learn new skills, which can generate income, and female children remain enrolled in school.

The COMEFs program, of course, is not a panacea for education reform, but it is one example of community driven programs that can greatly impact local education. This model, rather than depending on outside aid or increasing material resources by building schools, seeks to build local capacity by empowering mothers and educating their daughters.

Similarly, a UNICEF article highlighted a small group of committed villagers in Sangbast, Afghanistan, a community in western Afghanistan, who worked together to improve the educational outcomes of the girl children in their community. After a village elder donated land, the community constructed an all-girls school in the center of the village. By providing a local solution, the majority of the girls in the village are enrolled in school. While not every village has the money to construct a new school, this project highlights the benefits of utilizing local knowledge, resources and commitment to drive projects.

As I was reading the article, I questioned whether or not the school would have been as successful if it had been organized and built by foreigners. In this case, it seems that the community’s trust in local leaders allowed families to be comfortable with sending their daughters to a new school. Because there are many cultural practices and beliefs that contribute to low female enrollment in school, it is important that community schools respect and reflect the local cultural context.

Each of these articles highlights programs that are community driven. In development, we tend to look for solutions that can be implemented on a larger scale. While there are many benefits to scaling-up projects, it is also important for us to celebrate the small successes. As Dave mentioned in his post, Unrealistic Expectations, education reform is “is a supremely complex issue that requires systemic change across a broad range of issues, governments, cultures, and peoples.” In order for improvements to occur across, we must think globally, but focus our work locally. If we can shift our focus away from making huge changes for everyone, we might be able to implement strong, successful community programs that can greatly improve educational access in one village, town or neighborhood.

Sources:

The Indian Express (2013, November 8). Invest in girl’s education to break cycle of poverty: UNICEF. Retrieved from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/invest-in-girls-education-to-break-cycle-of-poverty-unicef/1192505/1

La Rose, T., Shimizu, I., & Havyarimana, G., (2013, November 5). In Guinea, groups of mothers work together to keep girls in school. UNICEF. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/guinea_70811.html.

Madhok, R., (2013, October 8). An Afghan community comes together to ensure girls’ education. UNICEF. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/afghanistan_70611.html.

Princesses, Tutus and All Things ‘Girly’

Last week adweek highlighted a new ad campaign from a Catholic school in Kentucky entitled “You’re not a princess”.  Amy referred to the ads in her post on Tuesday.

When you look at the ads in their entirety they encourage girls to overcome obstacles, prepare for the real world and say there is more to life than beauty. Great messages! Unfortunately, for some these ads have become an open door for them to release significant pent-up hostility towards Disney (who knew?) and all things girly.

On Jezebel.com Erin Ryan wrote, “Metastasized princess culture is responsible for all manner of social ills” look up the word metastasized and you will see it is most often used when referring to cancer. Right after this the author implies that princess culture is responsible for land mines. WHAT?

One mom wrote a blog entitled “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Girls Grow Up to be Princesses”. She uplifts building blocks and magnatiles while speaking about pink, tutus, and baby dolls as if they are some necessary evil we all have to grit our teeth and bare. At the end she writes:

“And, if your little girl absolutely must have a princess book consider The Paper Bag Princess, in which a pint-sized princess trades in her gown for much simpler attire to outsmart a dragon, save the prince and live happily ever after on her own”.

The overlying message in all this seems to be: A girl who likes pink, dresses and dreams of being a princess will grow up to be weak and a failure. She must cast off these foolish things and become a real woman!

Two things I have in response to this:

First of all, girls liking princesses will not have quite the dramatic effect these moms are suggesting. Moms have long been making pleas to stop dressing girls in princess costumes for Halloween, but what little girl wants to dress up as Jane Goodall? It’s in the same way, that little boys want to be cowboys and not Bill Gates. I once heard a kid say he wanted to grow up to be a fire truck (yes a fire truck not a fireman). Most kids change their minds about future career paths dozens of times, heck, adults change their career paths dozens of times.

Secondly, why is being a princess not an acceptable career choice/role model? Last May, shortly after Disney remade the look for the female character in Brave and caused a huge uproar, one mom decided to ask some girls in her life: What makes a princess? The girls named qualities such as kind, nice, royal, a friend, and brave. These don’t seem like such bad qualities to me!

In our efforts to empower girls let us not move to the opposite extreme. Let us not advocate for feminine equality by vilifying traditional femininity. The above comments uplift women heroes who wear business suits, sit in a board room or office with all men, don’t wear makeup, pink or glitter, and remain single their whole life to prove they don’t need a man. That picture of a woman is awesome and if a woman wants to go that way I support her. I also support the women who like wearing dresses, makeup and glitter. Women who want to get married and be mothers and who consider motherhood their top priority. Those women are no less female role models than the ones on Wall Street. Education should empower girls to be whichever kind of woman they want to be.

Sources:

Herbert, C. (2013, May 29). Glamorized Disney princesses may not be affecting girls the way parents believe. Desert News. Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865580816/In-defense-of-Disney-Glamorized-princesses-may-not-be-affecting-girls-the-way-parents-believe.html?pg=all

Ryan, E. (2013, Nov. 12). Schools ‘you are not a princess’ campaign give girls much-needed real talk. Jezebel. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/schools-you-are-not-a-princess-ads-give-girls-much-n-1463037459

Smith, J. (2013, Nov. 13). Mamas, don’t let your girls grow up to be princesses. Huffington Post The Blog. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-davis-smith/mamas-dont-let-your-girls-grow-up-to-be-princesses_b_4268738.html

Sexual inequality: not just a Third World concept

If you read the news (or our blog) you understand that girls around the world are consistently denied educational opportunities, be it by their parents, their government, or the simple yet complicated aspect of “access.” A recent article by the economist, also covered by Dave, refers to education for girls in a pragmatic voice, arguing that uneducated girls are a waste of human capital, yet current initiatives to keep girls in school are not enough. Setting global goals and funding education for female students doesn’t change discriminatory perceptions of girls, particularly in the most traditional of societies.

This news article examines a recent journal article in the Journal of Development Economics, which discusses the impact of droughts on female attendance in Uganda. The author, Martina Björkman-Nyqvist, discovered that when there was a reduction in rainfall by 15%, 5% of girls enrolled in the seventh grade did not go to school. This information was consistent over a period of 24 years. But the question is “why?”

Because many traditional societies, particularly in Africa, have an agricultural-based income, family incomes decrease significantly in times of drought. Families need more income, so they pull girls out of school. But why girls and not boys? The Economist says it best: boys are kept in school because “education produces greater rewards for them in the job market than it does for girls.” In other words, boys will be paid more than girls for the same amount of education, completing the same job. The Economist recommends finding a way to supplement household incomes during times of drought and other times of low agricultural productivity in order to keep girls in school.

Within the past day, the news has been bombarded with stories about COAG (the Council of Australian Governments) and its first ever report on the progress for females in Australia. In a shocking turn of events, Australian girls tend to outperform boys in school, and more Australian women than men hold a bachelor degree. Men, however, dominate the job market in terms of pay and management/leadership positions. No matter how educated a woman is, bosses tend to hire more men. From a budgeting standpoint, this baffles me, because men are also paid more to do the same job as women. Wouldn’t they prefer to hire women?

This is unfortunate proof for The Economist’s article. Australia, a generally contemporary society and one of the top world powers, has not yet been able to overcome the gender gap. Why, then, should countries such as Uganda be convinced to invest in their girls, when their boys will earn more money and be more capable to help support the family? This proves female education is a global issue. Until there is proof that women can be equally as successful as men in the job market, it is likely boys’ education will continue to be valued more than girls’.

Tovey, J. (2013, November 20). COAG report: girls ahead at school but women lag in pay stakes. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/coag-report-girls-ahead-at-school-but-women-lag-in-pay-stakes-20131119-2xt8x.html.

The economics of sexual inequality. (2013, November 2). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21588927-new-research-hints-better-method-ensure-girls-africa-stay-school-when.

Björkman-Nyqvist, M. (2013). Income shocks and gender gaps in education: Evidence from Uganda. Journal of Development Economics, 105, 237-253. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304387813001120.

The Importance of Empowerment

A hot topic surrounding girl’s education and one that has been touched on in this blog before is empowering girls. Stories about the Doodle4Google depicting women empowerment in India and the encouraging word of Miss North Carolina touting girls’ empowerment float around the web and social media.

googledoodlewomenempower_140857393592_640x360

While these individual acts are noteworthy, an article about empowering girls was released  this week that is even more so.  The article opens with these words that I could not help but copying:

There is a Chinese proverb that says if your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years educate children.

These eloquent words were spoken by a 15 year old university student Maud Chifamba. I could not have said it so nice had I tried.

The article goes on to talk about Zimbabwe’s progress in closing the gender gap by 2015 to reach the Millennium Development Goals, a topic Dave covered a few weeks ago in his article, “’The Economist’ Discovers Gender Inequality in Education.” The Zimbabwe government realizes that it is far from reaching its goal so it created an empowerment policy, which addresses the challenges many girls within Zimbabwe face, such as education, economic empowerment, protection, leadership, and development.

While most article I’ve read focus on the importance of primary or pre-primary education, this one focuses on tertiary education, an area that I find too often ignored.  And though I find myself agreeing with the article, one statement that Childline ambassador Thamsanqa Moyo makes about foreign music and film’s influence.  She says, “It is unfortunate that most youths have access to bad foreign music and films they download from the internet which makes them develop a negative culture.” She goes on to say that the government should promote local music, which is something I can agree with, is it fair to blame the outside culture for the problems within a culture.  Does the hip-hop music make them develop a negative culture? I think not, and while many of the lyrics disgust me, I would not go so far as to say that they are the agents of this negative culture surrounding women.  Society itself is to blame in most cases.

Later in the article, a child writer and poet describes what needs to change within Zimbabwe’s culture, not what they are importing from abroad.  Women need to be viewed as adults who are able to take care of themselves, not as children who need to be subjected by male dominance.  The environment that girls grow up in needs to change.  Girls need to be given the same opportunities as men and be seen as capable human beings who are valued in society for their possible contributions.  It is the climate of society within Zimbabwe, which obviously can relate to the misogynistic lyrics of many hip-hop songs, that needs to change.

I would like to end my last post with some pictures that were published by an all girls school in Kentucky entitled “You are not a Princess” to empower their girls.  Though they take a much different approach, one that many countries is not ready for, they are right on point in a sense that they say that girls need to be the agent of their own change and empowerment.  In a world full of Disney Princesses, the posters read:

o-DONT-WAIT-FOR-A-PRINCE-570

r-YOURE-NOT-A-PRINCESS-large570

The fact that these are being published by a school makes them all the better.  More schools need to embrace a progressive view such as this in our fight to empower women.

Sources used:

Bwanya, M. (2013, November 15). AllAfrica. allAfrica.com: Zimbabwe: Empowering Girls At All Costs (Page 1 of 3). Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://allafrica.com/stories/201311150350.

Cullers, R. (2013). Intriguing Ads Tell Young Girls: ‘You’re Not a Princess’ and ‘Life’s Not a Fairytale’ | Adweek. AdWeek. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/intriguing-ads-tell-young-girls-youre-not-princess-and-lifes-not-fairytale-153788

Fisher, H. (2013, November 14). Miss North Carolina offers message of empowerment to girls at North Rowan Middle. Salisbury Post. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.salisburypost.com/article/20131

Kanal, N. (2013, November 14). Pune girl’s women empowerment doodle on Google India today. Tech2. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://tech2.in.com/news/web-services/pune-girls-women-empowerment-doodle-on-google-india-today/920474

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

This is my last post on this blog, and I want to end on a positive note. I am going to talk about this article on Trust.org, the charitable arm of Thompson Reuters Corporation. It discusses this report, “The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013: Towards greater accountability to Africa’s children.” The report was produced by The African Child Policy Forum, a pan-African research institute focused on children across Africa. I’ll finish by talking about where a girls’ education movement can go from where it is today.

The article is titled “Ethiopia and Angola double number of girls in school in 10 years,” but many other successes are highlighted. Only 5 African countries have school fees for primary school (though there are associated costs in many places that can exclude the poorest of the poor). Across Africa, 78% of girls and 83% of boys attend primary school, a much-narrowed gap. Child death before the age of 5 (the U5MR: Under-5 Mortality Rate) fell significantly in a number of countries, by 52% in Rwanda and 47% in Liberia, stunning achievements. Back on the topic of girls’ education, Tanzania can now boast near universal net enrollment in primary school for both girls and boys, Ethiopia’s and Angola’s percentages of girls in primary did in indeed double, and a number of countries had significant gains.

There are other facts hidden in those facts and figures. I don’t want to take away from the successes of the countries mentioned in either this post or the report itself, but there is more to the story. Firstly, the Reuters article closes with the report’s list of the 10 least child-friendly governments in Africa: Chad, Eritrea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mauritania. What does this mean?

From the report: “These countries failed to put in place appropriate legal and policy frameworks to protect children from abuse and exploitation, and did not make significant efforts to improve access to basic services and to achieve positive child-related outcomes” (xv). The ACPF took into account information like what percent of their budgets governments spent on health care, immunization programs, and education. The ACPF made efforts in the report and press statements to say that how child-friendly a country is not a matter of its wealth, but of its “political commitment.” Rwanda and Lesotho, for instance, are among the top 10, and their GDPs are among the lowest on the continent. Measuring via budget breakdowns is a strong proxy measure for such commitment, and I don’t find fault with that.

So where do we go from here? The report addresses that with two charts in my opinion. One can be found on page 180, if you’re interested. It’s titled “Primary Completion Rate.” Worryingly, Angola didn’t report this information, but Ethiopia did: 57.8%. Fortunately, that breaks down pretty evenly across the genders (60.7/54.8), but it’s pretty low on its own. That breakdown for the entire continent isn’t too bad either, but it shows that only about 2/3 of children are completing primary school.

The second chart (I’m almost done with all the numbers, I swear) lists secondary education enrollment rates, and here we’re not doing so great. Only 26% of girls and 30% of boys in Sub-Saharan Africa enroll in secondary school. Angola, doing so well in primary school, only enrolls 13% of its children in secondary school. The best number in the region comes from Cape Verde at about 65%.

So there’s been a lot of progress, particularly over the last ten years, and there is still much more to go. There are dedicated people working tirelessly in every country in the world to ensure that girls have equal access to education, that the education is of a high quality, culturally relevant, gender-sensitive, lasting an appropriate amount of time, and is free. This isn’t an issue that will ever “go away.” Governments change, conflicts occur, money dries up, etc. We – meaning, as I said before, the peoples of the world – need to help create sustainable and flexible systems and structures that can both address the problem today, and adapt to a host of different futures. If you feel motivated by anything you’ve read here, join in. The world could use your help.

 

The African Child Policy Forum. (2013). The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013: Towards greater accountability to Africa’s children. Addis Ababa: The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF).

Migiro, K. (2013, November 18). Ethiopia and Angola double number of girls in school in 10 years. Thompson Reuters Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.trust.org/item/20131117183905-ueksn

Free school buses: a practical and transformative solution for Indian girls

As the 2015 MDG target approaches, nations are increasingly concerned with achieving universal primary education. Since the Millennium Development Goal 2 states the need for universal primary education, many states and aid agencies have focused their recent attention on young children. While primary school serves as the educational foundation, it is critical that states and organizations also focus on improving access to secondary school and beyond.

The article, “Educate girls to alleviate poverty” highlights the fact that primary school enrollment rates have improved, but girls continue to face challenges in accessing secondary school. The article further explains that gender gaps tend to increase as students age, citing estimates that women in South Asia have about half as many years of schooling as their male counterparts. Even though more girls are enrolled in primary school, it is critical for them to have opportunities to further their education in secondary school. The piece calls for greater emphasis on improving access to education, specifically post primary schooling for females.

The article, “Bringing education to girls, on buses,” focuses on a practical solution to the issue of access. Pranab Saikia explains that many girls from rural villages surrounding Gurgaon, a city near New Delhi, were forced to leave school early because lacked a safe way to travel to school. Recognizing that it is not necessarily practical or realistic to build schools in every village for teenage girls, a local resident, Rakesh Daultabad raised money to provide free buss services for the young women. To date, three buses transport approximately 350 young women from their rural homes to their school in the city. This article highlights the fact that sometimes in education, the solution can be as simple as providing a school bus in order for students to safely travel to school.

After reading this article about buses, I was first struck by how such an obvious and simple solution can have a dramatic influence on a young woman’s life. While bus services are a practical solution, I would have liked to know how the founder, Rakesh Daultabad gained the trust of parents to transport their children. I would imagine that many parents would be skeptical of permitting their daughters from traveling to the city with strangers, especially males.

Additionally, while I agree that access to education and school enrollment is important, it is only one aspect of education reform. Attending school is not enough. It is imperative that students receive a high quality education in school. Simply transporting to student to school is not enough to ensure that they develop the necessary skills to become successful adults in the future. Schools must be improved and teachers must deliver quality lessons and learning opportunities. The Azim Premji Foundation is working to address the issue of quality in India through teacher training programs, curriculum building, school leader training and examination reforms.

In order for us to truly reform global education, and specifically education for girls, we must value and implement both practical approaches, such as Daultabad’s buses, to increase access, as well as the Azim Premji Foundation’s approach to improve the quality of schools, teachers and administrators. If we can focus on both access and quality, then there will be potential for true reform.

Sources:

Chelala, Cesar (2013, October 19). Educate girls to alleviate poverty. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/19/educate-girls-to-alleviate-poverty/.

Saikia, Pranab (2013, November 10). Bringing education to girls, on buses. Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-10/gurgaon/43885288_1_20-villages-girl-students-higher-education.

Secrets Behind Teenage Pregnancy: Who’s Responsible?

Teenage pregnancy is becoming a hot topic when discussing girls’ education. Dave and Amy have both written blogs responding to two proposed solutions: providing condoms and birth control (Uganda), and improving maternal and child health programs (Sahel). Amy’s post Tuesday quoted UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin who names little or no access to school as a factor contributing to teenage pregnancy. What if the schools themselves are contributing to teen pregnancy?

I recently found an article tucked away in a local newspaper from Botswana. It reports on a secondary school in central Botswana where a group of male students are threatening to take action in response to male teachers who are, “taking away their girlfriends”. Students at the school anonymously wrote a letter to the headmaster naming seven teachers involved in inappropriate relationships with female students at the school. This situation is not the first in Botswana, as the article reports. The school has asked both teachers and students to come forward with evidence so that proper disciplinary measures can be taken. I have found no follow up article.

You won’t find stories like this covered by the larger, international papers, perhaps because no one wants to admit it’s actually happening. Still, local reports allude to such behavior in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. Last month a member of Parliament in Kenya, John Muchiri, publicly commented on the rising cases of romantic relationships between teachers and schoolgirls and called it “shameful” and “irresponsible”. Unfortunately, Muchiri’s statement was only given one line of attention. Apparently no one thought it important to comment on Muchiri’s observation.

I spent four years teaching in Tanzania and I can testify that it is a regular occurrence there. In Tanzania, and I suspect these other nations, teachers force students to sleep with them in exchange for good grades. I personally know a young woman who got pregnant from her teacher. Luckily she was only months away from graduating and was able to hide her pregnancy until she had taken her final exam. I say “luckily” because Tanzania regularly expels students for getting pregnant.

Handing out condoms will only stop girls from becoming pregnant and maternal health care will only help them afterwards. I suggest a better strategy would be changing the source of why they are getting pregnant. How is it that girls are held responsible but not teachers? Inappropriate relationships with teachers do seem to raise alarm however, when it is with boys. An article in a Zimbabwean newspaper a few weeks ago reported on a teacher accused of sodomizing 10 young boys. The end of the article states, “According to Zimbabwean law, non-consensual same-sex behavior […] can lead to maximum life in prison if convicted.” If these students had been girls, would it have still raised the same alarm? To me, the tolerance of this hidden practice shows just how far we still have to go before girls everywhere are valued the same as boys.

Sources:

(October 25, 2013). I boys to men. The Voice. Retrieved from http://www.thevoicebw.com/2013/10/25/i-boys-to-men/.

Githinji, R. (October 16, 2013). MP warns teachers over sex with students. The Star. Retrieved from http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-139780/mp-warns-teachers-over-sex-students.

Xinhua (October 31, 2013). Zimbabwe teacher arrested for allegedly sodomizing 10 minors. Daily Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/World/Zimbabwe-teacher-arrested-for-allegedly-sodomizing-10-minors/-/688340/2055128/-/umdy7t/-/index.html.