There is overwhelming evidence that empowering women and girls has transformative personal, social, economic and health benefits for individuals, their children, families and society at large. And yet the recent startling statistics by the African Union show that out of 75 percent of girls starting school in Africa only 8 percent finish. This calls for African countries to reflect on the urgent matter as we commemorate International Women's Day 2017 but all hope is not lost.
Further statistics provided by the AU reveal that only seven in ten children who begin primary school in sub-Saharan Africa will stay in school until the last primary grade. Less than a quarter of high school aged girls are enrolled in secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa.
This year's theme: 'Be bold for change', cannot have come at a better time when the Africa Union has declared 2017 as the year for "Harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth. The continent has committed to putting education at the centre of focus. If there is one thing that Africa's leaders and society at large are to take a bold stance on, it is women's and girls' access to quality, relevant education.
Research has shown that simply getting girls into primary school does not ensure they complete schooling. Education initiatives have not been multi-dimensional enough.
Most are still focused on narrow mainstream education competencies of literacy and numeracy, leaving out personal, social and economic competencies that many women and girls need to survive and thrive. As a result, interventions, have come short.
It's not enough to provide cash transfers and scholarships but introduce multi-dimensional education programmes are designed to provide girls competencies or assets beyond the narrow core educational competencies of reading, writing and language fluency to include personal, social and economic competencies which inculcate important knowledge, skills and values.
An example of promising multi-dimensional approaches is the Room to Read adolescent girls' education programme, which is already being implemented in nine countries. It was created around a life skills education framework, consisting of 10 core life skills to negotiate key decisions as a way of address these multi-dimensional needs. FAWE, CAMFED and Care have also developed very promising multi-dimensional approaches to education that are worth considering for scale up.
For multidimensional investments to have a far-reaching impact, there must be investment in girls in both the formal and non-formal education opportunities. In order for these multidimensional interventions to succeed, collaboration across sectors such as education, health, labour and adolescent development, is imperative.
Multi-dimensional approaches to education for girls in Tanzania
The Graça Machel Trust acts as a catalyst, working across the continent to advocate for the protection of children's rights and dignity, and amplify women's movements by harnessing and promoting their contributions to the economic, social and political development of Africa. The Trust has partnered with the Tanzania's Mara, regional government to identify, enrol and retain 20 000 out-of-school children between 7-17 years old in the next two years.
The Mara region was identified as a priority region because of it is one of several regions with a high prevalence of gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage. The Founder, Mrs Graça Machel, encouraged churches, the government of Mara, community leaders and nongovernmental organisations to come together to fight for children's rights, particularly girls affected by harmful traditional practices. This is how the Mara Alliance was formed.
She had learnt that, according to a UNICEF study carried out in 2015, approximately 60,000 children were out-of-school in Mara. She brought her friends from Educate A Child from the country of Qatar to support the Mara Alliance project with a contribution of $2 million dollars while the Graça Machel and the regional government of Mara are contributing $2million dollars in kind. Educate a child has supported millions of out-of-school children to access primary education in many countries.
Detailed information about the 20 000 children and their families will be collected in order to design the right support to fight barriers that keep children out-of-school. In its first six months of implementation, the project has already identified and profiled 12,159 out of school children and their families in 5 of the nine Local Government Authorities of the Mara region. To improve the school environment, barriers found in the schools will be identified. The capacity of teachers, school heads and government staff will be built to deliver quality primary education in the Mara Region by the end of two years. The project will also mobilise an alliance of government, public sector, non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations to support the 20,000 children and their families throughout the project. Detailed information about all these different support partners would be essential to develop a strong referral system, identify service gaps and close them.
The project proposes the revival of a promising non-formal education system called Complementary Basic Education in Tanzania (COBET). The system provides children with not only core education competencies, but also personal, social and economic competencies, and is therefore multi-dimensional.
Invest in education
The lack of investment in education systems is hampering education in Africa. The International Commission on Financing global education opportunities puts the financial gap for global education at USD 39 billion per year between 2015 and 2030 to put global education funding on a sustainable basis. The Pioneer Africa Initiative launched in Uganda in 2015 by former Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete is trying to address the funding gap by encouraging African states to invest in education.
At the recent Africa Union, High Level Dialogue in Addis Ababa, Mrs Machel urged African leaders to re-commit to increased investment as they start implementing the 2030 development agenda and initiatives that feed into Agenda 2063. She appealed to international development partners to recognise that in the face of the Sustainable Development Goals and global interconnectedness, "we need each other now more than ever".
The data gap is also cause for concern
"If we do not know where the women and girls are, how many they are and what their individual experiences are, then how do we design appropriate interventions, plan and budget for them to make sure they are not left behind?" asked Mrs Machel.
An emphasis on gender, rather than girls, will permit a broader discussion around how gender inequality limits the potential of both girls and boys to fully develop their capabilities.
Murphy-graham, one of the many respected social researchers on women and girls' education, who in her book Opening Minds, Improving Lives, defines empowerment through an education process as follows: "Empowered individuals come to recognise their inherent worth, the fundamental equality of all human beings and their ability to contribute to personal and social betterment. They develop the capacity to critically examine their lives and broader society and take action towards personal and social transformation."
Mrs Machel says "This is what we want for Africa's women and girls," noting "Investing in girls and women is about breaking the cycle of disempowerment, poverty and social exclusion."