How African policies are promoting gender equality in education

Today we celebrate International Day of the Girl

To ensure all girls and boys receive a quality education, we must intensify advocacy efforts on gender-friendly policies, especially those that target girls that live in marginalized communities and in countries affected by fragility and conflict.

A girl smiles at the camera. She attends the École Communautaire MASINDRAY in Madagascar.<br>CREDIT: GPE/ Carine Durand

This is the 14th blog post in a series of collaborations between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl (IDG), to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. This year’s theme “EmPOWER Girls: Before, during and after crises” marks the beginning of a year-long effort to spur global attention and action to the challenges and opportunities girls face before, during, and after crises.

Young girls and young women are a source of power and creativity – and the millions of girls in emergencies are no exception, and remember: when you educate a girl, you educate a nation!

Agendas, frameworks and policies… Are they enough? 

In 2015, African Heads of State adopted Agenda 2063 “the Africa we want” as a framework to drive Africa’s transformation. One of its aspirations is “a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development,” with educated and skilled citizens. A year later, the African governments  adopted the Continental  Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2015 (CESA 16-25) as the framework to transform education and training systems in Africa in relation with the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda; they made a commitment to transform lives through education and recognized the important role of education as a main driver of development and for achieving the other proposed goals.

Africa’s development relies on the ability of governments to develop and implement agendas and policies that resolve issues affecting its people. According to the Africa Regional Report on the Sustainable Development Goals (UNECA, 2015), access to quality education not only provides children, youth and adults with the knowledge and skills to be active citizens and to fulfil themselves as individuals, but literacy contributes directly to poverty reduction.

Implementation is still neglected

While a good number of African governments have developed policies and laws to achieve the increase in enrollment, retention and completion rates, implementation remains a concern. The implementation process is often compromised or inconsistent. This is often linked to among other factors: lack of policy awareness and understanding by the key implementers at the national and community levels; minimal consultation with the beneficiaries of the policies; and lack of data depicting the impact of the policies on the ground. The limited resource allocation to support the policy implementation process and the lack of political will among government leaders further leads to the shelving of these key yardsticks for progress.

Tracking gender equality policies in Africa

Some African countries have however been successful in fast tracking gender equality policies in education. In Zambia for instance, thanks to the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and its advocacy on promoting girls’ education as a human right, the government rolled out the Re-entry Policy for teenage mothers in 1997. It required all schools to grant girls maternity leave and readmit them to facilitate their education.

During the initial stages of the implementation process, the government realized that the policy was not widely known or understood. In 2010, the Zambian government commissioned a study that led to the development of implementation guidelines in 2012. The Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education guidelines sought to improve the understanding and implementation of the policy, ultimately increasing the completion rates of many girls in secondary school.

In The Gambia, the development and implementation of education policy 2016-2030 is bridging the discrepancy in access to education for both girls and boys. Gambia’s Education Sector Policy 2016–2030 is the first sector-wide policy in the country written after the separation of the portfolio of Higher Education from Basic and Secondary, which saw the creation of a ministry responsible for higher education, research, science and technology and the repositioning of the former Ministry of Education to focus on basic and secondary education matters.

During FAWE’s Conference on Girls Education in Africa, Ms. Oulaye Camara, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Tertiary Education in The Gambia noted that, “As a result of the changes, gender parity in the Gambia’s classrooms is now almost at par. Currently, more students are enrolling for health and agriculture studies but the Ministry is also promoting engineering courses to young ladies.”

Advocacy and gender-friendly policies are key

Despite the numerous efforts in inventing policies that are centered on equal access to education, reports show that the number of out–of-school children in Africa continues to soar. A 2016 UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) report says that about 264 million children and youth are out of school, with sub-Saharan Africa carrying the mammoth share of this data globally.

Girls are more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom despite all the efforts and progress made over the past two decades. According to the UIS data, 9 million of the 15 million adolescent girls who will never get the chance to learn to read or write in primary school, live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Another report by the World Bank Group posits that economic and social prospects are daunting for the 89 million out-of-school youth in sub-Saharan Africa (almost half of all youth), and that within the next decade, when this cohort will become the core of the labor market, an estimated 40 million more youth will drop out and face an uncertain future with limited work and life skills.

What these statistics depict is that we must intensify advocacy on gender-friendly policies especially those that target girls in post conflict situations and marginalized communities. The questions that education stakeholders need deliberate on are: how can girls traumatized by conflicts be supported? What does it take to offer a gender-friendly and safe learning environment? How can countries overcome democratic bottlenecks trying to push progressive policies for girls?

In addition, when developing policies on school related gender-based violence, governments and policy makers need to undividedly involve key actors in the field such as teachers, teacher unions, and school administrators, as they work closely with the beneficiaries of the policies: the learners.

Finally, in pursuit of gender equality in the continent, we must not leave the men and boys behind. They also are often affected psychologically and are under pressure to behave in a culturally and socially defined way. We must endeavor to conduct our consultations in a gender sensitive and inclusive manner that seeks to encourage collective responsibility in the promotion of equality in education.