International Women’s Day: Creating New Paths for Educational Opportunity in East Africa
Feb 24, 2021
The face of education is changing, especially in East Africa.
On this International Women’s Day – a celebration dating back to the year of 1911 – we’re highlighting the young change agents that are stepping up to serve, take part in, and alter the face of education in their communities. One of the key tenets of International Women’s Day is marking a call for gender parity. Due to the efforts of many new participants, girls’ education in East Africa is gaining attention and seeing more young women attend school, while escaping the cycle of harmful traditions.
But it’s an uphill battle. By grade 5 only half as many girls as boys attend school in Uganda and Kenya. Plus, school closures and adjustments caused by the pandemic made an already unequal situation worse for all international women, causing at risk children the most damage when it comes to getting consistent education.
When you consider the rural landscape, poverty and lack of education in East Africa, a frequent outcome is that young girls are forced into early marriage and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation, a violation of the human rights of girls and women and a practice condemned by the WHO). Not to mention the additional risks that early pregnancy, sexual violence, trafficking, and forced labor have on providing the education of young girls and international women.
International women’s spotlight: An East African woman empowers her community
Asante Africa Foundation supports East Africa’s most vulnerable youth by empowering the next generation to lead the change themselves. Student and teacher stakeholders adopt the mantra “If it’s about us, it can’t be without us” to more effectively identify issues and implement solutions for their fellow classmates’ education. With a keen focus on girls, we strive to build academic and leadership skills, impart social and health education and support entrepreneurial endeavors.
In part, these efforts manifest in learn-do-teach and pay it forward methodologies. The essence is that an active learner involved in each stage of the learning process uses the knowledge they retain to actively transfer their knowledge and become leaders by enacting change themselves.
By taking ownership of their future, that leader then assumes responsibility for others in the community. They pay the gift of knowledge that they’ve received forward, amplifying its effect.
In northern rural Kenya, Naomi is the perfect embodiment of these methodologies on International Women’s Day. Having escaped the fate of FGM and early marriage that was customary in her village, Naomi’s passion for education was nurtured in the Wezesha Vijana (Girls’ Advancement) Program. Flash forward a year, and Naomi is now teaching and directly impacting the lives of young girls at a primary school in her village.
Naomi has done courageous work to help local girls avoid the cultural traps they often fall into. At the same time she instills self-confidence and awareness of women’s rights so they can feel free to get their education in her classroom.
In an important show of allyship, the boys in her class couldn’t be happier to see their fellow girls in the classroom. They know that if their female classmates are empowered to get an education it means their culture as a whole will begin to change for the better.
In a few years those same allies as boys will grow to be the men in Naomi’s village, helping to support her efforts and that of her school. Given the importance of local schools being a safe haven for girls and their studies, everyone in the community – fathers, moms, siblings, extended family, teachers and friends – is engaged in assisting and promoting girls’ education.
That idea becomes even more groundbreaking when considering that elderly men in Naomi’s village denounce her efforts, because they run counter to the traditional treatment of young girls. It’s why planting positive seeds as children becomes critical to break the cycle.
Young East African women, whose futures were once in doubt, are gaining the skills and education to better their own lives. They’re doing so with the help of their teachers; but just as important, there are many parents helping out as well.
Parents, and the encouragement they give to their children, play a central role in the educational support networks young women like Naomi are creating in East Africa. That communal support enables these women to help girls like themselves get the same opportunity. It means the faces of girls’ education is changing, in the community, in the front of the class and in the class itself.
Did you know…
The theme for IWD 2021 is “Choose to Challenge”? The idea is that because we control our thoughts and actions, we can choose to challenge gender bias and inequality anytime we witness it. We can also choose to celebrate the achievements of girls and women internationally. From challenge comes change.
Use the hashtag #choosetochallenge on social media to show your support and solidarity with international women everywhere.
Expanding educational opportunity in East Africa through financial support
This International Women’s Day 2021, it’s important to note that the drive to increase educational opportunities for girls in East Africa has received national and international support. The governments of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya long ago implemented free primary education, with Kenya adding free secondary education in 2008, where costs can often be prohibitive for girls. And while school enrollment is steady in populous areas, the rural and remote areas of the three eastern nations tend to see much lower attendance, graduation rates and test scores.
However, organizations the world over have been intervening in East Africa, particularly as it relates to young women. In 2020, the World Bank earmarked $150 million for Uganda to enable more access to quality secondary education and environments supportive of girls’ education. Per Tony Thompson of the World Bank, the funding project “includes special measures to reduce the prevalence of early pregnancies and to assist young mothers to re-enter lower secondary education when they drop out.”
It’s worth noting that Tanzania received $500 million from the World Bank for their Secondary Education Quality Improvement Project (SEQUIP), partially in an effort to alleviate the issues pregnant girls face in secondary education.
Also, the Global Partnership for Education recently worked with the Kenyan government, school board and the rural communities that would be impacted to provide grants that total $98 million to improve girls’ enrollment and retention.
By financially supporting East African girls’ education, these global organizations (and many others) are allies to the nations and their local communities in improving the situation.
But more help is needed.
Through the local communities with whom we work, we’re attempting to positively impact as many adolescent girls’ lives as possible. Our Wezesha Vijana (Girls’ Advancement) Program supports local leaders to form a holistic approach to address the factors that can positively impact the girl child’s education.
As this International Women’s Day approaches, we encourage you to help support the education of more East African girls. Happy women’s day to all!
Written by: Christopher Bass