Empowering the African Girl Child Through Transformative Education

Harnessing the Power Catholic Education for Sustainable Change

By: Lennie Maina


The Bakhita Partnership for Education (BPE) is proud to announce its intention to participate in the upcoming United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) Summit 2023, set to occur on the 18th and 19th of September, in New York City. As we approach the midway point to the target year 2030, this vital summit will not only serve as a reflection on progress made thus far, but more importantly, catalyze a new era of expedited action towards achieving the ambitious yet crucial Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In line with the transformative vision set forth by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) Summit 2023, the Bakhita Partnership for Education (BPE) is gearing up to host a compelling side event during the Summit. This assembly is designed to highlight the substantial contribution of Catholic education in expediting the realization of sustainable development goals in Africa, particularly SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality).

Central to this event is our commitment to prioritizing and elevating the narratives, experiences, and insights of girls from underserved and marginalized communities. The event will feature the compelling voices of these resilient girls, who, with the help of BPE, have been given the chance for education.These young voices, often left unheard, will ensure their lived realities shape the discourse, drive decision-making, and inform transformative strategies in education. By weaving their stories into our dialogue, we not only advocate for inclusivity but also empower them, recognizing their agency in
charting the future of education in Africa.

Over two centuries, Catholic education in Africa, majorly sister-led, has carefully crafted strategic methodologies, demonstrating consistent success in promoting gender-responsive and transformative education. Furthermore, issues of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) have emerged as pivotal in this endeavor. Access to proper WASH facilities is indispensable for the retention and consistent attendance of girls in schools. Many young girls often miss or entirely drop out of school due to inadequate sanitation facilities, especially during their menstruation. By integrating WASH initiatives into the educational infrastructure, schools can effectively address and eliminate one of the primary barriers to girls’ education in Africa.

In numerous countries in Africa, Catholic education represents a significant 40 to 60 percent of the total educational services, thereby solidifying its influence on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). BPE’s ongoing efforts, inclusive of promoting WASH initiatives, have been instrumental in forging a supportive environment for gender equality and empowerment within the educational sector.

The event also aims to specifically highlight the contribution of Catholic religious sisters in promoting girls’ education and gender-responsive, transformative education. These dedicated women serve not just as educators but also as advocates, delivering accessible education to girls, particularly in marginalized communities. Their commitment extends beyond academic instruction, focusing on a holistic model of development that encompasses spiritual, moral, and social growth. In this way, they
leave a transformative impact on their students and society at large.

The event, enriched by a treasury of insights collected from the Catholic education vast network of educational institutions throughout Africa and critical learnings from its recent International Indaba on girls’ education convened in Lusaka, in May 2023, is eager to share BPE’s proven strategies. Recently, the BPE hosted the “Keep-the-Girls in School” Indaba, a conference centered on the state of girls’ education in Africa especially in the wake the COVID-19 pandemic. This discussion among education
policymakers and practitioners from across Africa resulted in targeted strategies for gender-responsive education systems, continuity of learning, and school retention for girls.

The indaba, steered by the girls themselves, underscored BPE’s dedication to fostering their involvement in developing gender-responsive and transformative education. A key outcome of this meeting was the Indaba Girl Declaration, a comprehensive document detailing the core requirements to revolutionize girls’ education. Supported by representatives from the UNESCO SDG 4 Youth Network, selected girl representative from the Bakhita girls schools will present the Indaba Girls Declaration at the event. This presentation aims to influence key stakeholders, particularly political leaders, to take decisive action in transforming girls’ education.

Furthermore, the side event aspires to incorporate thought-provoking perspectives generated from the ongoing transformative education dialogues, giving particular attention to the outcomes of the 2022 UN Transforming Education Summit (TES).

Why is the BPE Concerned About This?

In the context of Catholic Social Teaching and Human Rights, the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, where 9 million girls face barriers such as forced marriages, cultural norms, conflicts, and environmental crises that may keep them from school, requires urgent attention. This issue not only contravenes the fundamental human right to education but also conflicts with the Catholic principle of individual dignity and the right to holistic development. Investment in girls’ education transcends individual transformation, instigating broader societal and economic change – a principle aligned with the Catholic belief in communal responsibility and the common good. However, achieving this requires more than providing schooling; we must also ensure safe, supportive environments where girls’ dignity is respected, aligning with the human rights principles of non-discrimination and equality, and the Catholic ethos of prioritizing the poor and vulnerable.

What is the Bakhita Partnership for Education?

Supported by the Hilton Foundation, the Bakhita Partnership for Education (BPE) constitutes a collaborative network of Catholic educational institutions, individual educators, and advocates for education in Africa. This alliance is spearheaded by both Jesuit and sister-led education institutions, creating a potent coalition for educational advancement. This alliance is fervently dedicated to championing the cause of girls’ education. Within this partnership, members unite their efforts to promote transformative education, with a distinctive focus on improving girls’ education. BPE staunchly champions access to superior education and the enhancement of student retention rates.

Targeting particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable girls, BPE’s ultimate aim is to guarantee every girl child access to a high-quality foundational education. The religious sisters and Jesuits involved in BPE leverage their extensive educational experience, striving to pave more effective routes for comprehensive education and character formation.

Furthermore, these educational leaders contribute to the formulation of policy responses to Africa’s education crisis, thereby tackling the continent’s urgent educational necessities. Their unwavering belief in education as a potent instrument for change, particularly for girls, bolsters BPE’s commitment to delivering well-rounded, trauma-informed, and sustainable services through their comprehensive girls’ education programs.

The Bakhita Inspiration

The BPE draws inspiration from St. Josephine Bakhita, an African saint whose life mirrors the struggles many African girls face today. Born in Darfur, Sudan, Bakhita, meaning “fortunate one,” was enslaved as a child. Later, working as a nanny for an affluent Italian family, she encountered the Canossian Sisters. Her tale of liberation, culminating in her choice to join the Canossian Sisters convent in Schio, Italy, symbolizes hope for African girls seeking both outward and inner freedom.

Goals and Objectives for the Side Event

  1. Showcase Pioneering Initiatives: Amplify the landmark contributions of Catholic Education in Africa towards the rapid realization of SDG 4 (Quality Education) and its pivotal role in fostering gender equality.
  2. Empower Voices from the Margins: Prioritize and elevate the narratives, experiences, and insights of girls from underserved and marginalized communities, ensuring their lived realities shape the discourse, drive decision-making, and inform transformative strategies in education. By integrating their voices, we not only advocate for inclusivity but also recognize their agency in charting the future of education in Africa.
  3. Exchange Expertise: Facilitate vibrant dialogues to disseminate invaluable lessons, experiences, and insights that have driven impactful gender-responsive and transformative girl education initiatives.
  4. WASH for Education Enhancement: Highlight the instrumental role of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in reinforcing girls’ education in Africa. Advocate for its integration in educational infrastructure development to address health and dignity concerns that often hinder girls’ continuous school attendance and performance, especially during menstruation.
  5. Strategic Visioning: Collaboratively design and iterate an action-oriented roadmap that embeds gender-transforming education principles at its core.
  6. Boost Resources: Galvanize donor interest and commitment towards the tangible implementation of the 2023 BPE Indaba Girls’ Declaration and the expansive scale-up of BPE’s initiatives across Africa.
  7. Knowledge Hub Creation: Forge an inclusive platform to disseminate best practices, innovative methodologies, and groundbreaking approaches that reflect the aspirations articulated in the Girls’ Declaration.
  8. Catalyze Partnerships: Ignite collaborative synergies among diverse stakeholders, culminating in tangible commitments and actionable collaborations towards actualizing the objectives of the Girls’ Declaration.

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