Step 1 - Read the essays
A combination of political, cultural and psychological solutions (Hiwot Amare – Ethiopia)
Given the depth and breadth of the problem, I believe there is no one-shot miraculous solution that African leaders can put in place to bring our African girls to school and protect them from the moral and physical assault they face every day. In fact, I think it’s a combination of political, cultural and psychological solutions that, brought together, could change the picture.
Firstly, a top down approach needs to be applied: a strong policy about mandatory school enrollment and attendance of girls (and boys). Not only does it need to be written in the law but it must be seriously controlled. Parents must be fined for not sending their children to school. As the Jules Ferry laws changed France’s school enrollment and quality forever, we need right here in Africa strong policies that make it unlawful for a parent to keep his or her child out of school. Further than the law, controls, regular patrols and neighbor denunciation must be encouraged and incentivized so that it becomes a real social shame not to send a child to school.
Secondly, we need to work hard on shifting social norms. We should ban expressions like “Don’t cry like a girl” (while talking to a boy); “good to marry” (when a girl cooks well); “you can’t marry him, he can’t sustain you” etc. These expressions decree that women are incapable and weak beings waiting to be taken care of. Not only is it accepted by the ones who use these expressions, but it slowly also becomes a fact to the girls who hear them. And when in turn these girls become mothers, they’ll pass this belief to their children. This leads to a vicious circle perpetuated for generations. This is the hardest part of the change that must occur as changing mentality and social norms is far too complex. However, there are solutions to intervene through media, community reunions, women empowerment programs.
Lastly, we need to build a girl’s confidence. Not only will that keep her longer in school but it will also enable her to be a more confident mother who will send her child to school (even if it means imposing it to her husband). Confidence can be thought in different manners. First in school, children must be thought self-defense, what their rights are, respectful relationships between boys and girls etc... Then, we need to give girls role models. We need to make a girl believe, dream and hope that she can achieve something one day. The media, books, movies, shows, etc.… have a great role to play here. Confidence will also enable a woman to protect herself from all sorts of assaults.
To wrap up, I’d like to say that this kind of change will not happen overnight. And that top down solutions don’t work if not backed by societal and mentality changes. The solution must be in a form of combined efforts form the government, civil societies, activist, private companies and the society as a whole
National Female Education and support Service programme (NFES-SP) (Mzeziti Mwanza – Zambia)
My one major idea that I believe will give importance to girls education is establishing a National Female Education and support Service programme (NFES-SP) that aims at preventing all social, economic, cultural, political vices in today’s society in negatively hindering female education. Several girls and women drop out of school due to trafficking among others. Further, these vices are hindering women and girls to have access to education or prevent them from staying in school.
This NFES-SP is to have 3 components, that form a network of support of all girls in schools and encourage those not in school to enroll.
1 )Female education awareness program; which aims at educating women and girls on their right to education who may not otherwise be culturally believe that “womans place is the home”. In addition, women and girls need to be able to identify gender inequality or any other vices such as verbal abuse by teachers, physical abuse and educate them on how to avoid or report such cases. Several girls are unable to identify gender biased statements from teachers, parents or even peers, for example this affects their self-esteem in staying in school. Girls facing sexual harassment may not know how to approach such a matter but the female education awareness programme can teach girls on schools on how to report such cases. The awareness program can extend to engaging traditional leaders as champions of change to promote the elimination of negative cultural and traditional customs that may inhibit female education.
2) Female protection services is the second component of the NFES-SP that aims at establishing structures and systems that support and protect women legally from inequalities in society and the education system. For instance, free counseling services can be provided for the girl child who may not have the much needed parental emotional support for them to successfully complete their secondary education. This can be implemented in partnership with the legal authorities in the country to get cases reported directly to police authorities. Several girls are sexually abused in African rural communities (both in schools and the home) and they have nowhere to report their cases. Girls need a place that they can freely express themselves and talk about the things affecting their education. For instance straining house chores, gender-biased curriculum, verbally and sexually abusive teachers. In addition, the programme could create a toll free number where girls can report cases from anywhere in the country.
3) The third component of the programme is carrying out gender audits of the education curriculum and carrying out effective mainstreaming of gender in the Education systems. In conclusion to this idea, these three components are to work in collaboration to achieve the intended purpose of the National Female Education and support Service programme (NFES-SP)
Women-led Hubs for the Advancement of Girls (Namhla Ruselo – South Africa)
Young women in Africa have been structurally excluded from decision-making particularly decisions pertaining to their health, education, economic participation, defined social participation, sexuality and access to information. This has been evident in the number of cases of abused women on the continent, the numbers of young girls becoming pregnant early and the job prospects of women in positions of leader thus making women the most affected by poverty and structural limitations for advancement.
From an early age young girls are taught to disregard themselves for the benefit of others and the cycle continues in many ways leaving communities underdeveloped and structural change very minimal.
So, what if we had a hub? A mobile hub? A hub to connect girls to women? A safe space open and far reaching to young girls in villages and far outlying areas of the continent and delivering a platform for girls to connect with opportunities to enable:
1. Access to quality education – via mobile learning booths
2. Access to health and safety – quality sex education and body rights education
3. Access to job-readiness, enterprising and social service
4. Advocacy, political participation and policy-making
5. Access to mentorship, guidance and support
6. Access to advancement of scarce-skills for young women to accelerate their economic participation!
This hub must be made mobile enabling each young girl an opportunity to experience all that it has to offer.
For each village or town the hub travels to groups of young women can be tasked with projects such as starting small libraries, veggie patches and community activism among other things; which can connect them with other young women in nearby villages, townships, cities and countries! Creating a network of education, advancement, safety, possibilities and opportunities for women of Africa. The ripple effect of empowered women could mean a changed Africa, for the better!
Through communities impacted by the mobile hub we can be sure to see an increase in safety for women, activism, role modelling, economic participation and innovation. This is my vision for girls in their journey to womanhood walking hand-in-hand with other women for the betterment of the continent!
Introduce STEM potential early and nurture girls to grow into these careers (Martha Polla – Namiba)
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is a central pillar for industrialization and technological advancement. From an early age I have pondered on why is there a very low representation of females in these fields compared to the higher ratio of females to males in Africa. In order to accelerate Africa’s development, it is imperative that women take up their rightful responsibility and role in contributing to this advancement through being availed opportunities to join STEM careers.
Through my experience, I have realised that Africa has very few platforms and organisations promoting women in STEM, especially Southern Africa. Most prominent platforms such as Next Einstein Scientific Research Platform target women already pursuing a path in STEM fields. What about the very young generation that is not yet aware of the available career options? The young generation tend to pursue careers that are reflected among the people in their communities and society at large. This is because they believe that those are the only options within their reach. Therefore, my idea on how to make girls count is by reaching out to the less fortunate and help them see that STEM fields are available to them too.
African towns and cities are composed of informal settlements with people that have lost hope on ever achieving the same thing that the kid on other side of town can achieve. Girls from these areas don’t believe they can ever be engineers, scientists or mathematicians because women around them always end up as bar tenders, hair dressers or selling at the open markets. There are untapped talents among each and every one of those girls and it is our duty to release that potential. These girls need someone to believe in them and show them that no matter their circumstances it is possible.
The scope of my idea:
• Approach young girls in primary and high school, especially those in disadvantaged areas.
• Educate them about STEM careers.
• Pick those interested in these fields, mentor them, and assist them in applying to universities and scholarships.
• Help tutor them in science related subjects and provide them with essential books.
I have already embarked on this journey, where I visit disadvantaged towns sharing my experiences, challenges and empowering young women with information about opportunities. As a female Transportation Engineer in a male dominated field, I am motivated to share my challenges, breakthroughs and inspire young women through my own experiences. On my school visits I always conclude with the following extraordinary remark from The First Lady of Namibia “What defines the New African Woman is her ability to not only survive but also to thrive in a political and social set-up that is not equipped for her to survive and thrive”. It is time for the New African woman.
Connecting The Unconnected (Nyeneokpon Ekanem – Nigeria)
As the global community strives towards achieving the Sustainable Developments Goals, Africa must make renewed efforts towards promoting inclusive growth by ensuring that all its human or material resources are gainfully harnessed. Accordingly, women/girls constituting half the continent’s population must be connected to opportunities that will increase their relevance to Africa’s development.
Unfortunately, due to institutional inadequacy and negative cultural practices in most African societies, most of the continent’s women are not well-positioned to contribute to the continent’s advancement. Many African girls and women are denied education and ownership of land, capital, etc. They witness untold gender-based discrimination at workplace, with very little participation in the formal sector. They suffer Female Genital Mutilation; domestic violence; restrictive stereotypes; forced under-aged marriage that stifle educational prospects; unpaid labour; child prostitution; sexual harassment etc. which ruin them psychologically, making them feel like second-class citizens.
Indeed, for Africa to become developed and achieve Planet 50:50 by 2030, this situation must change. A strategy that will cause this transformation must not only empower women educationally, but also eliminate the repressive cultural structure that hamper girl-child education women empowerment and concurrently connect women across different African communities together to share ideas/experiences and form common fronts against gender-based discrimination.
First, to get all African girls educated, we must deploy virtual learning technology that will take formal education to their homes. This will not only help leapfrog the prohibitive infrastructural cost associated with the traditional teacher-classroom educational delivery model, but also make education more convenient and accessible even to African girls in remote communities engaged in activities such as farming, trading, household chores etc.
This ICT-enabled learning could also spark girls’ interest in uptake of STEM disciplines, thus closing the gender gap in STEM fields.
Secondly, to build political or social pressure against gender-based discrimination, African leaders must invest in promoting platforms that will enable our girls learn from women in other societies with appreciable gender parity reduction and build feminist networks that advocate women issues, assist victims of abuse and contribute to gender responsive pro-women policy formulation.
Thirdly, to increase women participation in politics and formal economic sectors, African leaders must promote technologies that will enable women to effortlessly mobilize support for their political aspirations; access/utilize business development opportunities and build skills which will enable them land better jobs.
Finally, many ills persist in Africa because of lack of verifiable data to guide interventions. Therefore, our leaders must promote technologies that will enable easy collation of reliable real-time information on anti-women practices that can propel/guide international interventions.
One powerful technology that can enable these is the social media. Unfortunately, this is not only inaccessible in many African communities due to low device and broadband penetration, but is yet to be fully adapted to Africa content-wise. Therefore, One Big Idea African leaders should implement to maximally harness women’s potential for Africa’s transformation is development of social media access by extending internet access to remote communities; increasing access to internet-enabled devices through strategic collaboration with device manufacturers and encouraging social entrepreneurs to design more relevant educational content.
Girls investing in younger girls as a pre-requisite for graduation (Foba Akom – Cameroon)
SA program should be launched by governments such that whilst girls are in secondary school and universities, one of the requirements they have to fulfill before they are eligible for graduation is to volunteer for a given number of hours each year in educating other girls who cannot go to school or dropped out of school.
How will this program be structured? I shall illustrate how this program should be structured using the educational system in grammar schools in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, because I am most familiar with this system having studied in it. The volunteering program will start when the students are in form three and ends when they obtain their undergraduate degree. Students of these classes fall in the age group of 12-23 years. These students will volunteer to teach girls who dropped out of primary school and those who have never been to school. They will have to commit to using at least an hour of every school day to teach these girls. The books which they will use to do this will be carefully chosen ones which empower these girls and most of these books should preferably be written by authors which they can relate to. Books such as 'We should all be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngochi Adiche.
This volunteering program should cut across all disciplines such that for every field there is a volunteer ready to impart knowledge. For example, girls studying computer engineering at the university level will volunteer to teach young girls in secondary and primary schools how to code. This will not only help this younger girl learn an increasing useful skill it also will build the research, patience, and discipline required to impart knowledge hence forming their character.
This progam is very feasible practically as to implement it is not costly and the girls volunteer in their community hence every community with a school in it will benefit from the program. Also, these girls who volunteer to teach others will learn much needed soft skills such as; how to manage people, public speaking and in this program will become more aware of the problems others in their community face. In addition to this they will become more confident and engage in community give back and with their local authorities. This program will address other issues such as bridging the gender gap in STEM fields, when younger girls see older girls from same community as them studying subjects and / or in fields previously considered only for men, they will be inspired to realise they can do whatever they decide to.
The Social Impact Bond - Paying for Success: A lesson from India (Fiifi Oduro-Nyarko – Ghana)
A program should be launched by governments such that whilst girls are in secondary school and universities, one of the requirements they have to fulfill before they are eligible for graduation is to volunteer for a given number of hours each year in educating other girls who cannot go to school or dropped out of school.
African Leaders have in the past immensely supported women empowerment initiatives. In 2015, the African Union with support from African Leaders declared 2015 as "The year of women's empowerment and development towards Africa's agenda 2063". Before that, there was the African Women's Decade (2010-2020) and the Maputo Protocol (2003), just to mention but a few. The issue is, the interest is there. The policies are there. It is the implementation that has proved challenging over the years.
One of the factors hindering implementation efforts is the lack of funding. Promoting the education and wellbeing of girls in Africa will require African Leaders to tackle the serious factors preventing girls from accessing education in the first place which include negative traditional practices such as Child marriages and cultural norms that favour the education of boys over girls, gender-based violence, early pregnancy, Inaccessible schools, biased teaching and learning methodologies and Lack of gender-sensitive amenities such as toilet for girls. All this will cost money. Money most African Leaders cannot afford to raise.
On a recent trip to India, I discovered an organization called Educate Girls, which tackles gender inequality in India's education system. Educate Girls was pioneering a 3-year development impact bond with the goal of increasing out-of-school girls in primary school and progress of girls (and boys) in English, Hindu and Mathematics. In 2 years, Educate Girls had achieved nearly 88 percent of the enrollment target and 50 percent of the 3-year learning target in a remote rural district in Rajasthan, India. I thought that was amazing and wondered if we tried something like that in Africa whether it will work. I think so.
The idea of Development Impact Bond was adapted from the idea of Social Impact Bond which is a fairly novel financing instrument that brings together government, service providers and funders to implement proven programs designed to accomplish clearly defined outcomes. Here is how it works: A service provider raises the initial capital support from investors who are willing to cover the upfront costs and assume performance risk to expand promising programs. The government only agrees to make payments to the program only when the outcomes are achieved. In other words, government only pays for "success". It was first used in the UK in 2010 to reduce prisoner recidivism, achieving tremendous success and has since been experimented in the US, Australia, Canada and Germany, raising a combined investment totaling more than £300 million.
Development Impact Bonds come with added benefits: they embed vigorous ongoing evaluation of program impact into program operations, accelerating the rate of learning about which approaches work and which do not whilst promoting transparency. Also, Government only pays for " what works" thus repositioning government spending to cost-effective preventive programs.
I think African leaders should give it a try. There is no harm in trying after all. The only harm is not trying at all.
"Each Girl Counts", initiated by our leaders including all stakeholders (Rokhaya Ngom – Senegal)
How can we make a girl to believe in herself after she has been mutilated, to show her that she counts in her society? How can we assert to another, to whom her childhood has been stolen, who was married to a man who could be her father, that she has a say in the functioning of her community? Many young girls are left to their own devices in Africa. Anxiety punctuates their daily lives. To restore their confidence in themselves, to re-teach them their prerogatives stolen by our societies and traditions, at this point, only NGOs and some activists are working in that way.
Our governments signed and ratified so many conventions about girls and women’s rights. Then, in most of our countries, a legal framework to protect them and their rights already exists. Still, I find it deplorable that it is such a pain to apply it and make states responsible of this application. Everytime NGOs ask states to engage advocacy campaigns. Then, today, I would like all countries of Africa’s continent to launch an advocacy called "Each Girl Counts", initiated by our leaders. They will have to gather together all stakeholders (NGOs, religious leaders, family, etc.) around different events to sensitize the communities. What would be significant with this idea of advocacy is to hold several events on the same day in all states.
Around this plea, discussion panels will be organized, especially on child marriage and female genital mutilation with religious guides, leaders, families, NGOs, etc. If we want to permit girls to know their rights and make them want to raise mountains the best way is to go directly to them to motive them. It would be possible to organize tours especially in rural areas, gather those girls to give them coaching sessions and capacity building with coaches and emblematic figures of female entrepreneurship. In response to those trainings, each village and girls will be asked to lead a project being able to solve a problem in their community. This advocacy project will end with a regional pitch contest. Each country will be represented by the group of girls who will win the national competition. Firstly, the objective of « Each Girl Counts » is to lead to a change of mentality among each layer of the population, so that, we will be able to erase those social defects that kill social life of our girls. Then, the aim is to provide them several tools that will help them to create business, being autonomous and being able to seek solutions adapted to their problematics. It will also be an opportunity to show the international community a positive image of a continent that stands up together to say NO to the implicit exclusion of girls from society. If I'm selected, I'll tell our leaders in Ethiopia that it's time to make girls' education a priority. Beyond the established budgets and funds, they will have to become ground workers and involve the entire civil society to make real the implementation of girls’ rights laws.
Gender inclusive, science, mathematics and technology to develop soft and hard cognitive skills (Mollin Mandaza – Zimbabwe)
African leaders can ensure all girls matter and harness their potential by creating a girl child agenda to leave no girl behind and commit to working with them in a way that catches them young to ignite a passion for learning and school activities. This includes free primary school education, provision of sanitary ware in schools, infrastructure development on school roads in rural areas, school infrastructure upgrades, investments in education and assuring legal policies to guarantee girls' safety from violence in streets and communities.
The education system therefore needs to be transformed to be more innovative, gender inclusive and modern curriculum which fosters can-do attitudes in class exercises using age-appropriate materials in science, mathematics and technology to develop soft and hard cognitive skills. Also, compulsory teacher gender sensitivity training should be done nationwide, school textbooks to be provided without gender stereotypes for careers in STEM fields and media e-tutorials which are fun, engaging and user-friendly. Girls need to be taught responsible leadership to nurture critical thinking, problem solving and independent research skills through project-based learning. Governments can boost STEM teacher salaries; provide massive incentives to female students like STEM full or partial scholarships; postgraduate internships; entrepreneurship or political science and research grants.
Governments should also invest in solar-powered gadgets with eBooks, science games and mathematics exercises; support schools with resources and tools to encourage a culture of asking questions and positive reinforcement to improve girls creativity, confidence and autonomy in learning from early childhood. Research and Development multisector government partnerships can form to create policies for girls’ safety, safe spaces in schools and communities and collect data statistics on gender-based violence against girls to inform lawmakers and the public. The use of social media videos and hash tags can mobilize national discussions and public engagement about violence and STEM education. Thus government incentives are required to teach girls to sense danger or seek help such as using media and apps; increased support centers online and physically; enforced legislation against cyberbullying, violence, harassment and gender discrimination in order to safeguard them against violence.
Nationwide government backed career fairs and educational expos can promote STEM and give career advice will enable girls to become the entrepreneurs, politicians and engineers of future. There also needs to be national science and technology innovation competitions annually with scholarships and book prizes; holiday business and science camps for girls; encourage girls to join junior parliamentary programs, inviting female political leaders to speak in schools and campaigns to highlight the nexus of STEM careers intersecting with other fields like fashion, social sciences, health, finance, environmental sciences, art or media in order to promote a basic understanding in them. As well as increased government sponsored field trips for public schools to laboratories, engineering construction sites and companies to expose them to successful female role models.
This can make STEM, entrepreneurship and politics gender inclusive and give girls an opportunity to transform the future of our continent because problem-solving, decision-making and innovation are sources of power and choice.
Empowerment through Engagement, Education and Employment: The 3-E STRATEGY (Rumbidzo Gundudza – Zimbabwe)
The rate of development of a continent depends on the inclusive participation of its people. Sadly in many African countries the exclusion of girls in mainstream development slows down development. Stereotypically girls are perceived as second class citizens and that keeps them in the periphery of development and in abject poverty. To transform this negative perception this paper proposes the use of a 3-E Strategy. This strategy involves Empowerment through Engagement, Education and Employment.
ENGAGEMENT. Engagement should focus on gender awareness, policy formulation and implementation as well as peer review of regional gender protocols and conventions. Gender awareness programmes should emphasise on the importance of the girl child and the need for her insurmountable participation in the development. To push this gender agenda a multi-sectoral approach is required. Organisations working around gender and development, the custodians of culture, and the national gender machinery should increase their collaborative efforts to make the programme a success. These programmes will help change the society’s attitudes, knowledge and practises that have perpetuated the exclusion of girls from the mainstream development. This paradigm shift in societal perceptions empowers the girl child to unlock their value and potential.
The existence of a gender policy should be a pre-requisite for every nation and this should be coupled with a strong monitoring and evaluating program. Protocols made at regional level such as the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development of August 2008 should have strong peer review processes to increase accountability amongst member states.
EDUCATION. Due to high drop-out rate of girls from primary to secondary school, African countries should honour the proponents of the UNCRC Article 28 which advocates for free primary education. Furthermore countries should work towards the fulfilment of the African Charter on the Rights of the Child Article 6, which encourages the development of secondary education and make it eventually free. Allowing the girls to go through the education system increases their chances of participating in national development considerably. Since most African countries’ economies are based on informal employment, a special quota system can be created to make vocational training available and accessible for girls.
Countries should increase girls’ access to education through grants and scholarships as well as affirmative action especially in the enrolment at tertiary institutions. Countries should promote the enrolment of girls in male dominated disciplines like Science and Technology.
EMPLOYMENT. Governments should promote self-reliance among youths and award revolving funds with a specific quota for girls to engage in income generating projects. To compliment government efforts the business community should work with educational institutions to create employment through mentorship-internships with a special quota for girls. These programmes will allow girls to gain relevant skills and experience not only to be employable but to enable them to create employment for others.
Empowering the girl child is empowering the nation. The use of the 3-E strategy will bring the desired transformation.