Many of the girls supported by the Girls’ Education Challenge are about to become women. The kind of women they will become and the lives that they will lead will be largely dictated by the lives of the women around them – their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. For many, this risks impoverishment, early marriage and pregnancy and a life of service to their families and communities.
However, for many adolescent girls involved in the 37 GEC projects in 18 countries, things are changing – due in no small part to the engagement and activities of the women in their communities. The GEC projects are working in a number of ways to address the barriers that adolescent girls face in getting to school and learning, but almost all have some focus on the important role that mothers and other female relatives have to play in unlocking self-esteem, aspirations and opportunities for their daughters through accessing education.
On International Women’s Day (coming on the heels of Mother’s Day in the UK!) it is important that we recognise, not only this key role, but the way in which many mothers and grandmothers are embracing it. These women are addressing the challenges they face together with their daughters to ensure that the next generation is offered greater choice and opportunity.
Mothers’ groups have emerged as a key tool for promoting girls’ education.
Mothers' groups can help to raise mothers’ awareness of the challenges facing their daughters, engender a sense of responsibility and become a place where more personal female issues can be discussed.
In many communities, a girl’s enrolment in school is generally decided by the father. However, once she is enrolled, her daily school attendance, punctuality and time for homework (all of which can have a significant effect on her academic performance) are determined by her mother’s agreement to allow for study by reducing household chores (including caring for other siblings) and her mother’s willingness to provide financial and emotional support.
In an environment where female education is not prioritised therefore, platforms such as mothers’ groups and meetings are opportunities for open discussion, reflection and information sharing about the potential benefits of educating girls. Decisions made in mothers’ forums can create an enabling environment for girls’ education in the community, significantly contributing to student attendance and retention.
BRAC Primary Schools’ Girls’ Education Challenge project in Afghanistan has a mothers’ forum which meets monthly. Its main objective is to address the challenges and barriers which girls face in regard to their education and find ways to tackle those challenges. The meetings are used to discuss issues and problems in and out of school – and find solutions. Topics include performance in school, homework, hygiene, attendance and child protection. The project has found that 80 per cent of the mothers of students covered by their project actively participated in their mothers’ forum regularly and with interest. Awareness and understanding about the significance of girls’ education increased through their meetings – which is reflected in higher attendance.
In Mozambique, Save the Children has found that in many communities there is a good relation between women’s groups, girls’ clubs and safe school committees identify girls who have dropped out of school and share this information with the members of the committees and women’s groups, so that all three are working in harmony to re-integrate girls. Awareness activities are being undertaken and are performed in coordination between these groups. In one case for example, a girl of 15 in the 5th grade had dropped out due to forced marriage. With the intervention of the women’s group and the directorate of school, the girl was rescued, the marriage was broken and the girl reintegrated into school.
Health Poverty Action’s Rwandan girls Education Access Programme (REAP) is piloting the Mother-Daughter Clubs (MDC) model in Rwanda. The Clubs target the most marginalised school girls and their mothers, providing them with income generation support and training. They also facilitate discussion around the importance of education and sexual and reproductive health. The Clubs have been successful in raising girls’ self-esteem and in addressing culturally taboo topics, including teenage pregnancy.
The most successful mothers groups are grounded in traditional beliefs and cultural relevance, use the local language and have fostered a sense of ownership amongst their members.
Mentoring is another key element to addressing girls’ education and potential positive role models and mentorship can come from teachers, peers, mothers, and local and national celebrities all who can play a key role in girls’ motivation and enthusiasm for completing school and learning.
I Choose Life’s project in Kenya works in partnership with ‘Mothers and Daughters’ an NGO specialising in facilitating school-based motivational events for girls, focussed on building confidence and raising aspirations to make positive life choices. These successful events feature local and national role models and are reaching 15,000 girls.
Finally, Link Community Development, working in Ethiopia, has gone a step further and initiated an ‘awards’ programme which celebrates the outstanding achievement of a teacher, mother and girl student in each of 123 schools. This has created a positive environment and constructive competition within in each group and, importantly, it recognises the value of maternal support and engagement in a girl’s education and the life of the school. It is encouraging to know that in some communities there is more than one ‘Women’s Day’ when this crucial role is recognised and celebrated!
Chris Wallace is Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) Programme Lead. She has been working in international development for the last 30 years for INGOs, UN agencies, DFID and the European Union. She joined the GEC in 2012.
Photo Credit (from homepage): UNAMID, Albert Gonzalez Farran