Girls across Africa have always encountered barriers that impede their education. In fact, in Malawi — which has one of the highest school dropout rates in Southern Africa with 15% of girls and 12% of boys — the completion rate of girls was estimated at only 51%. The participation of boys outnumbers girls’ for a myriad of reasons. Among some of the factors that hinder girls’ right to education and participation in formal schooling include absent parents, early or forced marriage, religious beliefs, inadequate resources, hunger, poverty, systemic gender biases, and teenage pregnancy.
It’s crucial to identify these persistent vulnerability factors to create and sustain education initiatives that have a holistic and systemic approach that bolster girls’ opportunities for learning and development. Read on to learn more about the Education Plus Initiative and how it aims to empower girls in Africa.
Why are girls more disadvantaged than boys?
In Africa, gender norms and poverty are deeply entwined, and this intersection often means that disadvantaged girls are more likely to experience these hardships than boys. A study on out-of-school girls’ lives in Zimbabwe illustrates stop-start experiences in schooling due to domestic responsibilities. Alison Buckler explains that while some of these girls’ experiences with marginalization in the context of education are characterized by persistent poverty, most of them are also underpinned by unpredictable shifts. For instance, a girl named Gugu chose to drop out of school to pursue more opportunities to protect and support her siblings.
Most school programs should look into shifting their focus on how formal schooling and its values might change for girls as they deal with and manage disruptive events in their lives, and create educational policies that adapt to these volatile circumstances and highlight girls’ existing capabilities. Fortunately, several international institutions focus on this underserved demographic. In the case of Bridge Academies Uganda, they have identified reasons like forced marriage, early pregnancy, and increased maternal mortality as key reasons why girls experience poor educational outcomes. The institution prioritizes equitable educational opportunities and assumes accountability for their girls’ education. Proper gender-responsive monitoring ensures each girl’s progress is assessed based on factors such as attendance and academic performance. This degree of monitoring is crucial as 23% of girls who do attend school drop out early due to teenage pregnancy.
Aside from that, learning programs are created to boost girls’ performance and are grounded on gender equality and women’s empowerment principles, with female pupils at Bridge Uganda 2.5 times more likely to achieve Division 1 or Division 2 than girls across eastern Uganda. Similarly, Brave Generation Academy seeks to democratize education and increase opportunities for young girls. By using online platforms, fostering a collaborative classroom environment, and employing effective tutors, young girls are granted a space to nurture their talents.
Certainly, leveraging the existing values and capacities of young girls can inspire hope, and encourage enrollment and educational stability.
The Education Plus Initiative and How It Can Empower Girls in Africa
The UN reports that 4,200 adolescent girls and young women across sub-Saharan Africa contract HIV weekly and more than 23,000 deaths of young women were due to AIDS-related diseases in 2020. These numbers underpin the urgency to preserve the lives of adolescent girls and young women. By enhancing education standards and preventing new HIV infections with the use of various educational and applied interventions, it’s certainly possible.
The Education Plus Initiative is one such recourse. It is an initiative that seeks to provide free and quality secondary education for all girls and boys in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. Some of its notable opportunities and services for young girls include universal access to comprehensive sex education, fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights, freedom from gender-based and sexual violence, school-to-work transitions, and economic security and empowerment. Because gender parity is still a strong concern in Africa, this initiative is a critical measure to ensure young women are happy, healthy, and aren’t deprived of formal schooling.
Recognizing young girls’ circumstances can provide the foundation for education policies that are as empowering as they are effective. The goal is for a more inclusive mode of learning to empower and allow adolescent girls in Africa to achieve a proper and fulfilling education experience.
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