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An update on the state of education for girls in Africa

POSTED June 14, 2021

An update on the state of education for girls in Africa

Our CEO, Fred, takes a pulse of the evolving environment as many start to look ahead to what the next school year holds

By Fred Witteveen, CEO, ceo@childrenbelieve.ca

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We’ve seen how COVID-19 is causing an education emergency at home, in Canada, and in vulnerable communities around the world. Even now, we’re providing emergency support through India’s devastating second wave of the virus, which is keeping more kids out of school.

In fact, just after the peak of the outbreak in August 2020, the United Nations reported 94 percent of the world’s student population, of which up to 99 percent are in low to lower-middle income countries, were impacted by school closures.

We talked about these issues in a February virtual panel discussion co-hosted with the Graça Machel Trust (GMT).

So, where are we now? I was curious for further insight and updates from those living it, so I reached out to the two young women who joined our panel discussion.

At the time, the girls joined with representatives from the Government of Canada, UN Women, GMT and Children Believe to discuss a recovery plan that accelerates, invests and strengthens systems to make it possible for girls to access education through challenges the pandemic intensified.

We talked about the need for more infrastructure, access to technology for digital learning and holistic policies to push girls forward. This came at a time when UNICEF was reporting children had been out of school about half the time they should be in school for the year. And, in many of the countries where we work, we were seeing this leading to an uptick in child marriages.

Today, the outlook is slightly better as in-person classes have resumed in Ghana and Zimbabwe — where Daniella Asare, a Children Believe youth ambassador and recent biomedical engineering graduate, and Tanaka Chikati, from the Graça Machel program and African Leadership Academy — are from. But, both girls acknowledge many new hurdles remain.

View of panellists at webinar

To start, the United Nations Population Fund confirmed there were 1.4-million unplanned pregnancies as 12-million women had challenges accessing family planning services in the past year. This was a reality Daniella was seeing come to life in Ghana. Anecdotally, she’s hopeful this trend is on the decline since girls are back in school.

In Zimbabwe, Tanaka is worried hyperinflation, a rising problem since 2017, may create more period poverty. The challenge? Feminine hygiene products are too expensive, keeping the most vulnerable girls from attending school regularly.

Both young women dream of a time when quality, accessible education will be available to everyone. Tanaka hopes that one day includes college preparations and mentoring, while Daniella dreams of curriculum that is informative and engages girls, both in-person and virtually.

Children Believe and the GMT are committed to making sure more girls like Tanaka and Daniella have a platform to tell us what they need to reach their dreams.

For our part, we have to start by creating safe spaces for them to grow and learn. That means they have to be healthy. So, at Children Believe, we’re continuing to support governments and agencies with vaccine rollout and, together with the GMT, we’re seeking new ways to potentially help create vaccine equity, among other initiatives.

This comes as The BBC reports two doses of vaccine have been administered per 100 people in Africa compared to 24 doses per 100 people worldwide.

There’s no easy answers, but we know we must work with global partners, governments and young women to ensure we’re breaking barriers keeping girls from accessing an education and opportunity.

Stay tuned as we seek to join with our peers to make it possible for more children to live and dream fearlessly.

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ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE (formerly Christian Children's Fund of Canada):

Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60 years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.

About ChildFund Alliance:

A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of 12 child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in more than 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.