The Bakhita Partnership for Education (BPE): Jesuits and Religious Sisters in Africa Join Hands to Promote Girls’ Access to Quality Education in Africa

The Jesuits and religious sisters in Africa have launched the Bakhita Partnership for Education to focus on promoting gender-responsive and transformative girl education in Africa. With the support of the Hilton Foundation, this initiative aims to provide educational opportunities to girls in Africa, particularly in countries where access to education is limited. The partnership is named after Saint Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese-born former slave who became a Catholic nun and dedicated her life to helping others. The Bakhita Partnership for Education follows her example by empowering young girls in Africa through education.

According to UNICEF, more than 130 million girls around the world are out of school, with the majority of them living in sub-Saharan Africa. UNHCR estimates that the number of those girls living in Africa is a staggering 52 million African girls between the ages of 6 and 15. It is further estimated that out of every enrolment, only a small percentage (8%) of those who attend school complete their education. The World Bank Out-of-School Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa study highlighted gender disparities in education, disasters, migration, armed conflict, extreme poverty, child labour, teenage pregnancies, and early and forced child marriages as hindering African girls’ access to education.The Bakhita Partnership for Education is a response to the challenges faced by girls in Africa in accessing quality education.

Since 2020 and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the support of the Hilton Foundation, the Bakhita Partnership for Education (BPE) has been investing in girls in rural and peri-urban Africa to empower them as individuals and as leaders of change. The religious sisters in partnership with the Jesuits have been advocating for 100 percent retention of girls in school and for improved access to quality and transformative education for girls in the targeted schools and countries. For its overall objective, the Bakhita Partnership for Education ensures that every girl child receives quality basic education, prioritising the poorest and the most vulnerable in these countries. Through the BPE, the sisters and the Jesuits are leveraging their long experience in education to advocate for better pathways for holistic education and formation and suggest policy responses to the crisis of education in Africa

The work so far has been three years of investment in girls’ education in the poorest peri-urban and rural communities of subSaharan countries beginning with Kenya, Uganda and Zambia with a plan to extend to Tanzania and Malawi, Congo and to West Africa. The BPE programme provides material support alongside measures to address girls’ vulnerabilities and psychosocial needs within a traditionally masculine environment. Economically and socially vulnerable girls are funded to attend school once a network of support is in place within the BPE partner schools.

In addition, the partnership works to raise awareness about the importance of girls’ education. The partnership also works with local communities and governments to advocate for policies that promote girls’ education and address the systemic barriers that prevent girls from accessing education.

The results speak for themselves in the numbers of girls who have gained access to new levels of education; increased retention rates and performance in partner schools; lower adolescent pregnancy rates; and raised self-esteem and status. At the post-school phase, significant impact is evident in their power to choose whom and when to marry; their community activism and participation in local and national decision-making bodies; their use of technology; and their engagement as changemakers. This is the ‘multiplier effect’ of girls’ education in action.

The BPE has engaged work to break the mould in the field of girls’ education by creating a new model of systemic change founded in power-sharing at the grassroots. BPE’s model mobilises an entire social infrastructure around girls to support their development, beginning with secondary education, and now intending to accompany the BPE alumni as they progress into young adulthood and working life. This approach builds a new social norm where there are real opportunities for girls and young women to make healthy life choices.

The BPE brings together, often for the first time, the many influential community actors on a girl’s life – teachers, health workers, traditional and faith-based leaders, police, parents, and female role models – all of whom can bring about improvements to girls’ and young women’s futures. By recognising and bolstering this network of support, the BPE is able to galvanise assistance for girls at the key transitional moments in their lives: from primary into secondary school, where many girls are lost from enrolment because of poverty; and upon graduation from secondary school, when girls need a secure bridge into further education or training, with solid economic opportunity.

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