The Vatican II’s document on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes #1, reminds us that “[t]he joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” Millions of girls in Africa are suffering, and we should be concerned and move fast to change their situation. Their life and dignity as human beings created in the image of God are under serious threat. While policymakers have long recognised the instrumental and transformative power of girls’ education for social and economic development outcomes and as the world’s best development investment, our call to protect girls is first and foremost a moral imperative.
In addition, we feel called by the second Jesuit Universal Apostolic Preference, Walking with the Excluded, with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, like the girls we are accompanying, to engage in a mission of healing, reconciliation and justice that responds to the needs of those who are marginalised.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, 9 million girls between the ages of about 6 and 11 will never go to school at all, compared to 6 million boys. In addition to early pregnancies, many girls are forced into early marriages and other harmful cultural practices, which block their access to education or even force them out of school. In some contexts, conflicts, climate change and environmental emergencies deepen inequalities and perpetuate multiple forms of discrimination against women and girls, including in their access to quality education. The situation is even worse for girls with disabilities who are even more disproportionately impacted in their access to education
Education is a basic human right and lack of it is already making life difficult for girls. Every child has the right to a safe, formal, quality education and access to lifelong learning. Education is a tool by which girls are empowered to exercise their agency, make their voice heard, and access their first leadership opportunities. Being out of school doesn’t just have devastating consequences for girls’ life opportunities – it places them at risk of teen pregnancy, child marriage, female genital mutilation and other forms of gender-based violence. Education is critical in tackling harmful gender norms, and empowering girls to drive change. It gives girls the skills to become leaders, innovators and change makers, and to tackle future crises.
Investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries and the entire world. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families. Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals – including boys and men – the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
But education for girls is about more than access to school. It’s also about girls feeling safe in classrooms and supported in the subjects and careers they choose to pursue – including those in which they are often under-represented. We need to keep working for change and promoting justice for girls and women without getting discouraged by the seemingly intractable problems that block girls from accessing quality and continuous learning. We need to implement gender responsive recovery strategies as these are essential to enable girls and women’s empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa. The Bakhita Partnership for Education (BPE) is committed in collaborating with others to promote girls’ access to quality education.
We are an independently governed faith-based partnership building a community where all girls and women live in safety, have the education needed to earn a living wage, and the opportunities to build a secure future.