By Wendyam Micheline Kaboré, Executive Director of IPBF
Burkina Faso is a French-speaking West African country with a population of over 20 million: 51.7% are women and 48.3% men. The population is predominantly young with 45.3% under 15 years old, 64.2% under 24 years old and 77.9% under 35 years old.
On the occasion of International Day of the African Child, IPBF wishes to take this opportunity to make a strong appeal to international human rights movements, development actors, and Burkinabe leaders.
Combined with the health and food crises, the impact of the ongoing security crisis in Burkina Faso since 2015 has forced millions of people, women, girls and children in particular, to flee their homes. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) find themselves in critical situations at the reception sites, faced with a number of overriding difficulties. Despite the basic needs of survival, the most vulnerable groups, notably women and children – especially girls – are faced with yet more challenges: school dropout, forced marriage, domestic violence, etc.
Apart from the security issue, the main areas of concern are health and education. We are observing, helpless, an upsurge in child labour: girls, as well as boys are being exploited at the sites of artisanal mines. In spite of the diseases they contract, these children are exposed to violence in all its forms. And most of the girls not working at the artisanal mining sites end up in the city looking for work. These minors end up entrusted to families or commercial drinking establishments where they are exposed to sex, drugs and physical violence from an early age.
In addition to child labour, these girls suffer other ills that were previously reduced by their presence in the school system, namely excision, early marriage and, in particular, gender-based and sexual violence. Rape, death from abuse, and lifelong stigma are the daily fate of thousands of children. Statistics collected by the National Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (CONASUR) give a total of 1,481,701 IDPs as of 31 October 2021, of which 906,963 are children and 333,244 are women.
All children have the right to education, to health and to a fulfilling life, and respect for the rights of the child is the responsibility of every society and every people. In this regard, Burkina Faso ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child on 23 July 1990. It should further be noted that Burkina Faso’s constitution recognizes the right to health and child protection.
We are therefore calling on the financial and technical partners, development actors and, especially, our leaders to be more committed and to take action to ensure adequate protection of Burkina Faso’s children. We have ratified legislative texts and now we must ensure that the rights of Burkinabe children are respected.
For more information on Burkina Faso and children’s rights, see:
Burkina Faso is dealing with an alarming security crisis, which has been ravaging the north and east of the country since 2015. The people most affected by the violence are women and children under the age of 15, the vast majority of whom are girls. Girls find themselves in an even more complicated situation, with the destabilisation of the already fragile health system due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which first hit the country in March 2020.
The attacks have forced millions of people – particularly women, girls and children – to flee their homes. One of the most violent recent attacks occurred during the night of 4 to 5 June 2021 in Solhan, in Yagha province (in the north-east of the country), which left around 132 people dead according to the government. Since the attack, almost 7,000 people are thought to have fled the affected region.
As education is now a new target for terrorism, large numbers of girls have lost out on their education after an attack has taken place. In early March 2020, the Ministry of Education, Literacy and the Promotion of National Languages (MENAPLN) reported that over 2,500 schools were closed because of attacks or insecurity, negatively affecting 350,000 pupils. These data conceal the often overlooked and worrying situation of girls’ education, since girls are some of the main victims of the attacks. Data gathered from the technical secretariat for education in emergencies show that 2,212 schools were closed on 5 February 2021. These closures directly affected 147,577 girls and 12,366 teachers, 4,481 of whom are women. The security crisis is compromising access to education for girls and women in Burkina Faso and at the same time, exposing them to gender-based violence such as child marriage, early pregnancy, sexual abuse and rape.
The solutions for ending girls’ loss of schooling and the spiral of violence to which they are exposed means engaging in advocacy with political decision-makers. Women’s rights organisations in Burkina Faso are running campaigns to end all forms of gender-based violence, encourage education for very young children, develop leadership and empower women and girls. However, they face numerous difficulties associated with a lack of real, tangible data. The Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme (Pananetugri Initiative for Women’s Well-Being – IPBF) and its partner, EM2030, are responding to this concern – thanks to funding from the Canadian government – by implementing the “Data-driven advocacy for girls’ education in emergencies in Africa” project.
One of the project’s flagship activities is advocacy involving the IPBF’s network of partner associations. There are 25 of these organisations, from eight regions in Burkina Faso. The network consists of associations, NGOs and state bodies that deal with issues involving girls’ and women’s rights, particularly girls’ education. They are divided into three working groups representing three regions in Burkina: the Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre and Centre-North.Advocacy campaigns based on conclusive data and evidence will be run in the three regions and centrally. The aim is to influence decision-makers so that they make education for girls and women in crisis situations and/or who have been displaced because of insecurity a priority.
Each of the working groups will produce a case study on topics related to girls’ education in crisis situations in their area so that they have access to conclusive data and can produce evidence to support their advocacy efforts. There are also plans to run four major advocacy campaigns in various regions: first, communication through mass media (radio and television); secondly, meetings with regional decision-makers in the education sector (mayors, municipal councillors, governors, regional directors of education, presidents of regional councils, regional directors of pre-school, primary and non-formal education and regional directors of post-primary and secondary education); thirdly, participation in decision-making bodies such as regional and national round-tables, municipal council meetings, the board of the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for Gender Rights (SP CONAP Genre) and the revision of Regional Development Plans; and lastly, meeting with the Minister of National Education and the Promotion of National Languages.
The commitment shown by the IPBF and its partners is a beacon of hope for girls’ and women’s rights organisations and for thousands of young and adolescent girls affected by the security crisis, who dream of continuing their schooling and having the same chances of success as others.
In crisis situations, girls face many barriers to education. These include sexual and gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, and child marriage. In Kenya, girls from Turkana host communities and urban refugee girls in Eastleigh informal settlement, Nairobi, are disadvantaged at all stages of education and struggle to learn given the high levels of vulnerabilities. In these fragile and crisis contexts, girls’ education is a lifeline. Unfortunately, many girls remain out of school and face gender-related barriers in education, pushing them further behind and deeper into poverty.
At the advent of Covid-19, the Government of Kenya announced the closure of schools and educational institutions as a precautionary measure to mitigate the risk of human-to-human transmission of the virus and minimize community spread. The adverse effects of the pandemic were experienced more by girls than boys. During the school lockdown, girls lacked food and sanitary towels provided by schools and NGOs. Most were unable to access learning materials while at home, and alternative learning channels were unavailable. For instance, most homes do not have radios; hence girls did not benefit from the school radio programmes by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD). They also do not have access to computers or smartphones to attend remote classes.
From the case study conducted by FAWE Kenya, Turkana County does very poorly in keeping girls in school once they are enrolled. There is a dramatic reduction in their numbers as they progress in subsequent classes. In 2020, for instance, 700 girls sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) against 997 boys, implying more boys completed primary school than girls in the host community. The rural-based host community has a negative attitude towards educating girls and believe that their education is optional. Girls stay home providing labour such as herding goats and handling other household chores. Their focus is to get them married off in exchange for wealth. Fathers believe that girls belong to them, and it is their right to decide when to be beaded and married off in exchange for cows and camels. Schools are viewed as places where girls are exposed to “foreign” ideas such as sex, abortion, drug use, and pregnancy. Language barriers, inadequate teachers, poor attitude towards education, girls’ indiscipline, and lack of role models are all factors leading to girls’ educational failings.
Many girls experience violence and extremism both at home and in school, and they undergo harm in the name of corporal punishment to instil discipline. The culturally defined gender-biased roles have led to a disparity in educational opportunities for girls and boys. Cleaning, cooking, fetching water, and selling firewood or charcoal are chores that together represent girls’ daily tasks. These activities often take up most of their time to the point that they have little or no time to study like boys do.
When families flee for safety, young girls miss out on education. Many urban refugee girls and families have fled Somalia due to forced recruitment and abduction of children to the conflict and found themselves in Eastleigh, Nairobi. Majority (30.8%) fled to Kenya because they feared abduction by militias, while 26.9% were forced out by war and internal violence. Many were also fleeing persecution, war, or even forced marriage, or female genital mutilation. Despite instability in their home countries, many girls sought further education, employment, or green pastures.
In Eastleigh, Nairobi, school-going refugee girls have been barred from accessing education because they lack official documentation. There are only six public schools and a couple of private schools that enroll urban refugee girls. Overcrowded classrooms characterize most, and teachers do not have the requisite skills to deal with their needs. Lack of legal status, essential documentation such as ID or birth certificate, or proof of prior schooling required to register is a significant barrier.
The urban refugee girls lack transportation options for safely accessing schools, with 59% mentioning distance to school as a significant barrier to schooling. Typically, because of time spent finding where to settle, most refugee girls are overaged for their grade/class for both primary and secondary schools. Because of colour and height, they are laughed at and ridiculed by other learners in schools. For example, some South Sudanese refugee girls cannot go to school because of the prejudices surrounding their physical appearances, especially their skin color and height, and end their schooling to enter the workforce, primarily as domestic workers.
Interventions by FAWE Kenya
FAWE Kenya works to ensure that all girls can access education, and this promotes stability among vulnerable girls. Educated girls are equipped with tools for resolving disputes peacefully and are more productive. Quality education has been shown to promote tolerance and help resist recruitment to violent extremism.
To address barriers to girls’ enrolment, retention, and completion in Turkana host communities and Eastleigh, FAWE Kenya is working proactively with the community to advance gender parity in education. We are encouraging parental engagement and girls’ participation in informing the planning of education in emergency settings. We believe this will help ensure the response targets girls in a way that benefits them and their voices are heard.
We support the education sector and the stakeholders to constructively influence decision-making and allocations at the county and national levels. With our well-constructed EiE program, we will ensure that quality education for girls is a top priority. Through the Nairobi and Turkana Advocacy Working Groups, we address a wide range of barriers to girls’ education using data-driven and gender-responsive strategies, tools, and approaches to put gender equality at the heart of EiE.
We have conducted extensive research to document evidence-based strategies that will change the narrative for girls growing up in crisis-affected contexts, strengthening their resilience and potential to rebuild their lives and shape their communities. Our research applied a data-driven gender analysis with qualitative and quantitative data disaggregated by sex and other variables to identify and understand existing gender disparities and gender-biased norms and practices related to access and learning for girls living in the Turkana host community and urban refugee girls in Eastleigh Nairobi. We have documented disaggregated and nuanced data regarding what is happening and why it is happening. This critical evidence will be integrated into the Kenyan education sector assessments and responses and used to inform programme design, implementation, partnerships, monitoring, and reporting to accelerate gender equality for girls’ education in emergencies.
In our advocacy efforts, we mobilize multi-sector responses in addressing the full spectrum of barriers that keep girls out of school while ensuring community involvement and establishing accountability mechanisms. For instance, in Turkana County, through the ‘Wasichana Wetu Wafaulu“ programme, sanitary towels are provided by the Ministry of Education. FAWE Kenya committed to holding the county education officers accountable for ensuring that the poor and needy girls from the host community access the sanitary towels and attend schools more frequently.
There is a need for improved coordination between the Government, CSOs, and other stakeholders to promote girls’ education in emergency settings and encourage communities to champion girls’ education.
By Nadia Ahidjo, Program Manager, Girls’ Education in Emergencies in Sub-Saharan Africa
As we look at most public projections for 2021 and prospects for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I think the most depressing bit of news is that if we continue as we are, all girls will only get to go to primary school in 2050. Despite numerous commitments to the girl child in the SDGs, the many laws and policies that governments have enacted, and the significant resources that go towards education for all; far fewer girls are in school and learning than should be. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 30 percent of primary school-age girls are out of school.
When one thinks about countries faced with conflict, terrorism, and fragility, the picture worsens. On the African continent, there appears to be no end in sight to the instability disrupting girls’ education. 2020 was supposed to be a landmark year for the African Union to “silence the guns” and put an end to conflict, but current trends tell a completely different story. There are growing, and dare I say it, alarming rates of refugee and internally displaced populations — IDPs were over 5 million by the end of 2019 in West and Central Africa. This is an increase of over 30 per cent in just 12 months. Despite these shocking figures, refugees and IDPs often remain invisible, and are rarely factored into national policies, severely limiting their access to quality education in emergencies. Humanitarian responses provide some stop-gapping, but are limited in their reach; in 2019 only 2.6% of humanitarian aid funding went to education.
This is heightened for girls in patriarchal societies — they are kept out of school in times of crisis and face significant barriers to education and vulnerabilities including child/forced marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, and gender-based violence both in and out of school. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation with school closures and diminishing financing of girls’ education in emergencies. None of these bode well for the future.
The challenge of ensuring access to quality education for girls, even in times of crisis, is further compounded by the lack of data that can help address gaps for both boys and girls, which does not enable the resources that do exist to be tailored to the actual needs on the ground in times of crises. Where the data is available, it is often not leveraged as it should be to ensure policy makers are informed and act accordingly. Recent research by the Agence Francaise de Developpement found that “although data collection on education has expanded enormously in Sub-Saharan Africa, few countries have robust data systems and even fewer are exploiting their data to improve their education systems.”
For Equal Measures 2030, these challenges should encourage us not to despair, but to collaborate with local actors who continue their work with vulnerable women and girls in times of both stability and crisis — especially local women’s rights organisations. By working with local women’s rights organisations, we can leverage the skills and experience of actors who are closely connected to girls and women in affected communities. We can also leverage new approaches to ensuring quality education for girls in emergencies. Through its work with women’s rights organisations in seven countries, Equal Measures 2030 has learned that when partner organisations ground their advocacy in data, they are more likely to reach their influencing goals. For example, EM2030 partner Kapal Perempuan cited the importance of data in their successful advocacy to change the child marriage law for girls in Indonesia. And our partner GROOTS Kenya’s “efforts to improve the availability and use of gender data have been recognised by the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, and they have been invited to play a formal role in the Inter Agency Committee on gender data statistics.”
Data can strengthen advocacy as it shows consistent patterns that require attention and action. Data is also useful in identifying effective solutions and can be used to hold governments accountable for their policies and commitments. This is summed up well by a partner respondent to our 2017 survey on capacity development needs: “No matter which route you go down, either using government data or using your own evidence that you produce, for me one of the more important questions is, how do you then use the data, or how do you use the evidence in a way that it’s facilitating you to achieve policy change? And I think that is something that quite a lot of people do need support with.” Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030) supports learning tailored especially for women’s rights organisations about how to understand and use data effectively in advocacy, covering topics including finding and advocating on data gaps and communicating data to different audiences, to name a few.
Cognisant of the power of data in the hands of women’s rights organisations, the Government of Canada, in line with its commitments in the Charlevoix Declaration, and its Feminist International Assistance Foreign policy, is supporting a bold partnership with EM2030 and its partners, FAWE and IPBF[i], based in Kenya and Burkina Faso, to drive equitable and coordinated provision of education for girls and women. Both FAWE and IPBF are renowned as thought leaders and changemakers for girls’ education in their countries, and on the African continent. FAWE aims to empower girls and women through quality education and training to give them necessary skills, competencies, and values to be productive members of their societies. They work to promote gender responsive policies, practices and attitudes and foster innovations that will provide opportunities for African women to prosper in all realms of their lives. IPBF aims to empower women and girls to defend their interests and overcome obstacles. They focus on developing female leadership and agency, especially among girls and young women.
Over the next year, we will work closely with our partners and other stakeholders in both countries to support advocacy and convening, working towards the ultimate goal of ensuring that education systems are data-driven and gender-responsive. This partnership will draw on EM2030’s specialized tools and data like the SDG Gender Index and recent Bending the Curve data. And we’ll also be producing new research and data together, to better understand the data landscape and to map opportunities and challenges for girls’ education in fragile regions of Kenya and Burkina Faso.
On the International Day of Education, we join UNESCO and other stakeholders including the Global Partnership for Education in championing the 2021 theme to ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation’. As we think about fragility through crises, and the ways in which this pandemic has thrown most of our education systems into disarray, it is even more urgent to leverage data to protect and ensure safe, accessible and quality learning spaces for girls.
[i] The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme (IPBF)