International Women’s Day: Empowering Young Women In Africa Through Education
International Women’s Day (IWD), a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8th, is a day set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness to issues affecting women such as gender equality, education, reproductive rights, violence and abuse against women, child marriage. On this International Women’s Day, we would like to bring your attention to some of the challenges women in sub-Saharan Africa are still facing today.
22-year-old Nigo* from Nigeria knows what it feels like to be out of school. She was only 14 when Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped 276 girls from her school on April 14, 2014, at the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. This incident put an end to their education and only a few of the girls have been rescued as of today.
Faith, 15, from Zimbabwe told CNN that her parents forced her to marry a 26-year-old man after dropping out of school. She says she’s lost all hope of ever going back to school.
‘’When I was nine years old, every other week one of my classmates would stop attending school. One by one they were first circumcised and married off to men more than 30 years older than them,’’ says Kenyan women’s rights campaigner Josephine Kulea.
Unfortunately, these stories are not unique. Intergenerational poverty cycles continue to affect economic, educational and health outcomes for millions of African women. At no time has raising awareness about women’s education been more relevant to African women than now. According to UNICEF, about 18.5 million children in Nigeria, mostly girls, do not have access to education. In addition to that, in sub-Saharan Africa, 32.6 million girls of primary and lower secondary school age are out of school.
CAMFED, (also known as Campaign for Female Education) non-profit, pan-African grassroots-led organization is stepping up to this challenge by empowering young women in Africa through education. CAMFED is tackling poverty, inequality and injustice through girls’ education and women’s leadership. CAMFED was founded in 1993 by Ann Cotton OBE, it began in Zimbabwe with scholarships to a group of 32 girls. As of 2022, it has supported more than 5.5 million girls.
CAMFED achieves its mission through its community-led, decolonized, “revolving door” education program. This program runs as a virtuous cycle wherein young women supported through school by CAMFED go on to support and mentor the next generation of girls.
For a number of reasons, many African girls are still denied opportunities to enroll in schools or higher education. For instance, poverty-stricken families in Africa usually stop young women from getting an education because of lack of finances as well as cultural practices like early marriage and need for domestic labour at home. These barriers hinder enrollment of girls in schools.
The need for equal access to education for girls encourages their enrollment to secondary schools. According to UNESCO/UIS, an educated girl will:
- Earn higher salaries, bear fewer children
- reinvest 90 per cent of her earnings in her family
- resist gender-based violence and education
- invest in the education of her own and other children
There are various ways to encourage female education. For instance, African countries can make and enforce laws and policies that ensure equal and free or subsidized opportunities for girl’s enrollment to schools. These policies will reduce discrimination due to gender, family’s level of income, and cultural practices. Also, cultural practices like early marriages and using the girl-child as a domestic servant should be done away with. Another way is by creating awareness of its benefits. Eventually, this will lead to the extinction of cultural barriers that limit and slow female education – and in doing so, eliminate gender-based poverty.
Below are some of the testimonies from CAMFED beneficiaries.
Fatima, a secondary school student from Ghana testified that she was burdened with excessive domestic chores which left her with little or no time to study. Luckily for her, the support she has received from CAMFED- a non-profit organization has renewed her hope of achieving her goals in the future.
“I am thriving at school alongside my fellow classmates. However, I have faced many challenges throughout my education journey, and I almost did not make it to secondary school. This all changed when I received support from CAMFED.”- said Fatima.
Sibusiso, who grew up as an orphan in the rural district of Zimbabwe, testified that with sponsorship from CAMFED, she was able to complete her secondary school education. She is currently a law-graduate from the University of Zimbabwe, where she conducts community outreach to make people aware of their legal rights.
The CAMFED sisterhood makes a tangible difference in the lives of these young girls. This International Women’s Day, pledge to support girls’ education.