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The role of women in education systems in Africa

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day
A girl writes on the board in a classroom in Burkina Faso.
CREDIT: GPE/Kelley Lynch

This blog post is the second for 2018 in a collaboration between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which began in 2017.

Nowadays, International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.

IDW is also an opportunity to accelerate the 2030 Agenda as well as Africa’s Agenda 2063, transforming this momentum into action through the effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially goals number 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and number 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

The absence of women in education systems reinforced gender inequalities

Women have in the past been ignored in the development of education systems in Africa. This is evident in the blatant disparities in the rates of access, retention and completion for boys and girls. For a very long time girls have comprised the largest proportion of children that have been unable to access education.

The latest UIS data reveals that Africa is home to more than half of the global total of out-of-school children of primary school age. Half of these children in the region have never been enrolled and may never enroll without added incentive. Girls are 56% more likely to never have enrolled in school than boys at 42%.

These glaring statistics corroborate the fact that the absence of women during the development of education and training systems in Africa has had serious implications on gender inequality in education and consequently on the socio-economic development of Africa.

The education of women is the most effective means for reducing the inequalities between men and women and guaranteeing the full participation of women in the socio-economic development process.

Bridging the gender gap through policy

Notably, there has been a significant development in the inclusion of women and women’s rights in key decisions in the education arena. The advent of the Maputo Protocol and other key Africa Union frameworks speak of the need to bridge the gender gap in education and other sectors as well as underpin the importance of including women in decision-making processes. These documents have set the right pace and environment for women to add their voices on Africa development matters.

African governments have also developed policies that recognize roles of women in education systems. These policies have given rise to affirmative action across all levels of education where women have been allocated more positions in different levels of learning institutions, and teenage mothers have been integrated back to school. There have also been provisions on gender-friendly environment with some governments establishing laws and guidelines to prevent and mitigate school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV).

In addition, a number of countries are implementing gender-responsive budgeting and reserving positions in their respective ministries of education and parliaments for women as in the case of Rwanda and Kenya. Women have also been appointed to head learning institutions. This is great progress, but a lot remains to be done to bridge the gender equality gap in Africa’s education systems.

Women are needed in the decision and policy-making process

Today, 263 million children and youth are out of school globally, of which 130 million are from Africa, according to a new data by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) in 2016. Issues such as poverty, war and cultural stereotypes continue to get in the way of children’s access to education.

Girls with disabilities can be especially marginalized. A recent research from western Africa found that they face increased isolation, stigmatization and discrimination, lack schooling and other opportunities to participate in communal life, and are at elevated risk of abuse, including forms of sexual violence.

This underscores the need to have women in decision making spaces in social, economic and political spheres for Africa’s development.

Women should not only have a comfortable space to facilitate their work but there should also be an increase in the number of women in policy-making positions.

Women will need to support their fellow women within these decision-making and decision-implementing structures. It is however very crucial for these women not to operate in isolation as they still require continuous mentoring and support.

The global and continental appeal by FAWE

The Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25) is very clear in terms of aspirations of education within the continent and how it fits in to the sustainable development agenda. Unfortunately, issues of women are not well articulated in this document.

As the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), we felt there is need to support various governments that will be implementing the strategy to operationalize and integrate gender issues in their work programs and budgets for all interventions that they will be implementing in the education sector. The respective governments should be in a position to adopt and domesticate the Gender Equality Strategy for CESA 16-25 developed by FAWE and AU/CIEFFA as a tool to address gender issues in the education sector.

But then again, women also need to play a critical role in mentoring young girls and boys into decision- making spaces. Coming from a position where society has looked down on them to becoming part and parcel of leadership in Africa including the highest organs of the continent, such as the appointment of Dlamini Zuma as Chair of the Africa Union Commission (AUC), women need to create spaces for young people to explore their potential.

Women in high places should push for policies that create an enabling environment for the allocation of resources towards the development of youth (18-35 years) and young people on the continent. This will go a long way in ensuring that girls, boys and youth have equal opportunities and resources to achieve their aspirations.