Girls’ enrolment is a fundamental issue

In accordance with its commitments to gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights, France is especially attached to the enrolment of girls and young girls.

The reduction of the primary education gender gap has been one of the greatest successes of the Education for All Initiative since 2000 (the share of girls out of school decreased from 58% to 53% in ten years in developing countries). Many countries still risk not reaching gender equality in primary and secondary education by 2015. Still too many girls (32%) do not complete a full educational cycle and 39 million girls aged between 11 and 15 were out of school in 2012.

Girls face particular obstacles throughout their schooling, including the costs of schooling, early marriage, safety, particularly in transport, and sexual violence. More broadly, girls’ education is still faced with inequalities and gender-based discrimination inherent in their society. School building, sanitation facilities, the hiring of women teachers and teacher pay for women also affect education for girls.

France pays special attention to reducing gender inequality at all levels of education, whether primary, secondary, general or vocational in order that girls should be given the same opportunities as boys and considered as real players in development.

Keeping girls aged 11-15 in the education system is a decisive development factor and a key to their empowerment. Studies show that school attendance by girls has a positive impact on their access to health, especially maternal, reduces the number of early and forced marriages, curbs the spread of HIV/AIDS and helps promote their economic empowerment. Adolescent girls who complete secondary school have four times fewer children than girls who do not go to school.

France is mobilized in the fight against gender-based violence in schools.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development has set up a special working group to highlight the issue of gender-based violence in schools which leads young girls to drop out and do badly at school. The working group has sought to emphasize this issue by making use of and analyzing available data on gender-based violence and its consequences in French-speaking West Africa. Recommendations to combat impunity of perpetrators of violence and strengthen measures of prevention and care for victims were compiled in a report on “Gender-based violence at school in French-speaking Africa: Understanding its impact on girls’ school attendance to combat it more effectively

Studies conducted in sub-Saharan Africa underline that many girls have to contend with violence on their way to school and at school. Violence – often sexual violence – is perpetrated by students or by teachers in return for higher grades. Moreover, in developing countries, more than a third of young women aged 20 to 24 affirm they were married before the age of 18. Marriages and early pregnancies lead girls to leave school on reaching secondary education.

Thus the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)’s Strategic Plan 2012-2015 has identified the guarantee of a “safe, supportive learning environment” as key condition for keeping girls in school and ensuring their successful education. France is coordinating the GPE Community of Practice for girls’ education jointly with the United Nations’ Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI).

Gender-based violence must be addressed by education policy at several levels:

  • prevention: by providing decent working conditions for teachers, secure transport, recruiting trained teachers who are aware of gender-based issues, and establishing favourable conditions for recruiting women teachers;
  • identification and addressing the issue of violence: mechanisms for violence detection and medical and psychological care services, as well as mediation with families, which it should be possible to offer. Parents’ associations could play an important role in this connection.
  • criminalization of acts of violence: perpetrators of violence, especially teachers, must not go unpunished. Suitable penalties must be defined and applied;
  • more broadly, raising the legal marriage age and combating early marriages are a key lever of universal education.

Nowadays, the poor capacities of education players in terms of gender and girls’ education, inadequate knowledge of and data on gender-based violence at school, and the lack of coordination at national and regional level prevent the proper integration of the gender-based violence dimension into education policy in sub-Saharan Africa.

France gives concrete expression to this commitment on the ground by supporting four programmes for girls’ education and combating gender-based violence implemented by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger (€3.3 million in 2012-2014).

Together with UNICEF, UNGEI and the participation of the GPE, France also organized a French-speaking regional workshop in Ouagadougou from 19 to 21 November 2013. The workshop was intended as an advocacy and capacity-building tool for State and non-State players addressing gender-based violence at school, in order to enable better integration of such violence into sectoral planning and programming.

The workshop helped highlight the best practices experimented by the different participants in the Subregion in order to devise a more comprehensive strategy for combating gender-based violence at school with a view to effectively supporting quality education for girls.

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Updated : May 2014