Education for All: What’s advocacy got to do with it?
Why are we failing to deliver on the promise of educating girls? In rural areas in Nigeria, surveys have found that at the end of 3rd grade, only 6 percent of students are able to read a simple sentence. In Malawi, it is illegal for pregnant girls and young mothers to return to school. In Guatemala, only 10 percent of rural girls complete secondary education.
Educating girls has been shown to strengthen families, reduce maternal mortality, and break intergenerational cycles of poverty. A single year of secondary education can increase a girl’s potential income by up to 25 percent, and significantly reduce the likelihood that she will become pregnant young or die in childbirth (World Bank, 2012). In spite of significant investment and political will going towards expanding girls’ access to education, the global development community has not yet achieved the transformative promise of a world where both girls and boys receive free, quality education.
Although equitable education for all sounds like a simple solution, the reality is anything but easy to achieve. In many countries, entrenched cultural beliefs confine girls and women to household roles and childbearing, rather than education and formal employment. Expensive school fees and uniforms, lack of girl-friendly facilities, and long and dangerous commutes to school create further barriers to girls’ education. In spite of near-universal adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), many countries still enforce laws that prevent girls from attending school and learning the skills they need to escape poverty. And even when laws are specifically designed to promote girls’ education, they often remain unfunded by cash-strapped government agencies and lack of political will.
The challenges we face in educating girls highlight the need for system-wide solutions. Let Girls Lead (LGL) is building a global movement of civil society, government, and media champions who empower girls to attend school, stay healthy, escape poverty, and overcome violence. At LGL, we invest in visionary local leaders and organizations in Africa and Latin America, providing the resources, networks, and tools needed to scale innovative local solutions that lead to sustainable impacts for girls’ access to quality education. By investing in successful advocacy for laws, policies, and funding benefiting girls, Let Girls Lead's externally-evaluated model has contributed to improved health, education, livelihoods, and rights for more than 3 million girls since 2009.
For many, advocacy and policy change seem far removed from the simple act of a girl raising her hand to participate in class. But to ensure girls are supported and empowered to attend and complete school, it is essential that we address the legal, political, and cultural systems that continue to keep them on the margins of society. In Liberia, where over three quarters of women in rural areas cannot read or write, improving girls’ access to education is a critical need.
Since 2012, LGL has invested in Community Empowerment and Sustainable Programs (CESP), a Liberian organization that advocates for implementation of the national Girls’ Education Policy in rural communities. When CESP joined LGL, they were using their own funds to support girls’ clubs in rural areas, and had been unable to engage local government to fund their work. Through LGL’s intensive capacity building, technical assistance, and funding, CESP Executive Director James Kamanda is scaling the organization’s impacts to create lasting change. Working with a core group of 500 adolescent girls, CESP has successfully advocated for government funding for school-based safe spaces for girls, established monitoring mechanisms to address gender-based violence in schools, and built a network of 10 rural schools that are advocating together with the government for full implementation of the policy. Girls are now raising their hands in class in communities where only five years ago, it was not even safe for them to attend school.
The LGL model puts the power to create change for girls’ education in the hands of leaders who are working to address the legal and social barriers that keep girls uneducated and poor. Leveraging this model, Champions for Change is investing in leaders working to save the lives of women, newborns, and children by advocating for improved maternal, newborn, and child health. By investing in strong leaders and their institutions, LGL and C4C support local organizations to expand their impacts while empowering girls to lead change in health, economic empowerment, and education.
Emily Teitsworth, MA is the Director of Programs at Let Girls Lead and Champions for Change