Working Group on Female Participation (WGFP)

Large numbers of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are kept out of the classroom or forced out due to a variety of adverse socio-cultural, economic and political factors. Despite dramatic gains in enrolment over the past decades, gender inequalities persist in access, attainment and achievement in much of the region.

Statistics paint a grim portrait of the education of African women and girls. Nineteen sub-Saharan African countries have a female literacy rate below 30 percent while corresponding rates for males are twice as high. Twenty-six countries in the region have not reached gender parity in access to primary education and less than half of 6- to 11-year-old girls are estimated to be in school. The situation worsens at secondary and tertiary level. In many African countries, only one in four girls has a chance of receiving a secondary education while at tertiary level, there are twice as many male students as female ( ref: UNICEF State of the World's Children 2006).

Yet, according to available evidence, there are not only direct personal benefits for girls who attend school but extensive benefits for society at large. Educating girls and women is a "best bet" investment that simultaneously achieves greater earning ability for families, lower birth rates, reduced infant mortality and increased levels of public health. Educated girls become educated women who have the knowledge, skills and opportunity to play a role in governance and democratic processes, and whose families are ready to learn and engage in behaviour supporting a wide range of development goals. 

What is the Working Group on Female Participation?

The Working Group on Female Participation (WGFP), was formed in 1990. It was led by the Rockefeller Foundation and carried out its activities through four components: Research Priorities for the Education of Girls and Women in Africa, African Academy of Sciences (AAS); Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa (FEMSA); Partnership for Strategic Resource Planning for Girls' Education in Africa, (SRP). Each of these components produced numerous publications. In 2000 the Forum for African Women Educationists (FAWE) became the lead agency for the Working Group. In 2003, the activities of the WGFP were mainstreamed into those of FAWE which continues to play a role within ADEA as a Graduated Working Group/Associate member.

What is ADEA's role in promoting female participation?

ADEA works closely with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) to seek effective ways to bring girls and women into the classroom and keep them there for the duration of the academic cycle. Together, they engage African ministers of education, funding agencies, researchers, planners and NGOs to identify and support collaborative efforts which will build the capacity of individuals and institutions, both private and public, to enhance female participation in education. 

What are the objectives of the Working Group?

Led by FAWE, these efforts are aimed at achieving equal access to quality education for girls by inciting governments and international organisations to enact policies and provide positive learning environments that treat girls and boys equally. This involves improving the understanding of sex-based differences in school participation in sub-Saharan Africa through advocacy and targeted research, and promoting best practices in girls' education through practical, innovative models. Only then can African decision-makers elaborate a coherent package of measures to equalise educational opportunity. 

What does FAWE do?

FAWE has it origins in discussions among African women ministers of education and funding agencies within ADEA. The organisation was founded in 1992 with the specific goal of advocating to bring about greater access, retention and completion in girls' schooling in sub-Saharan Africa as well as improved academic performance. 

Through a four-pronged approach, FAWE works to stimulate broad policy reform and create an environment conducive to providing women and girls with a quality education. The organisation: 

  • Enhances girls' participation in education by influencing governments and other policy-makers to formulate policies and plans that support girls' schooling and to ensure the translation of gender policies into practice.
  • Builds awareness at community and grassroots level to create consensus on the social and economic advantages of girls' education. This is premised on the understanding that when stakeholders and local communities are informed and convinced about the value of educating girls, they take responsibility for the task and collectively work to support the agenda.
  • Develops and promotes gender-responsive models that enhance girls' access, retention and performance. FAWE has initiated interventions which demonstrate that environments conducive to girls' enrolment, continuation and successful completion of the school cycle can be created in various country-specific contexts.
  • Encourages governments to adopt and replicate models that have demonstrated positive impacts for girls' education. FAWE supports the adoption of best practices emerging from these models locally through its National Chapters and provides technical expertise to ministries of education in mainstreaming these practices at national level.

FAWE's enormous advocacy potential comes from its high-ranking members who include education ministers, university vice-chancellors and rectors, senior education policy-makers, prominent educationalists, researchers, gender specialists and human rights activists. FAWE also sits on global education forums including the UNGEI Global Advisory Committee and the Global Campaign for Education.

The organisation's sphere of influence extends equally to grassroots level through National Chapters that implement its programmes in 37 African countries. A capacity-building programme currently being undertaken will strengthen the capacity of FAWE's National Chapters in policy and community advocacy, programme implementation and management, and research and documentation.