Focus: Girls in Education

Girl Power

Jul. 11, 2017

In spite of the general consensus that education can be the primary resource for moving the economy forward, there is much still to do to ensure that everyone on the planet has equal access to quality education. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than half of all the children in the world who are not enrolled in school: estimates suggest that these nations will have to provide basic education to 444 million children between the ages of 3 and 15 in 2030. Specifically, the lack of education affects one demographic more than another. According to UNESCO, 48% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate and recent statistics in Zambia show that girls aged 11-12 drop out of school at more than double the rate of boys; by age 15, this figure increases to more than three times.

A new initiative called Girls Education and Women Empowerment and Livelihood (GEWEL) by the World Bank and the government is attempting to unravel the complexities of the issue in Zambia and get to the heart of the matter. It has budgeted USD65 million for the five-year long GEWEL project, which will target 75,000 women in 51 districts across all 10 of Zambia's provinces. A cornerstone of GEWEL is Keeping Girls in School (KGS), designed to boost the number of girls staying in secondary and tertiary education. KGS was launched in January 2017, with a budget of USD25 million, and will target 14,000 female pupils at schools across the country, offering school sponsorship and other financial aid. Ina-Marlene Ruthenberg, the World Bank's Country Manager for Zambia, told TBY the project will provide direct financial support in particular for girls and women in rural areas. School fees will be financed on behalf of adolescent girls in households identified as being among the poorest in the country through their participation in the government's existing Social Cash Transfer Scheme (SCTS).

This program is a flagship initiative and will be vital for Zambia, a country that is taking the first steps towards acknowledging the important socioeconomic role its female populace can play. Inonge Wina, the President's running mate in the 2016 general election, has entered record books by becoming the country's first ever-female Vice President. She is joined in cabinet by several female peers, including Hon. Dora Siliya, Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Kampamba Mulenga, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, and Hon. Victoria Kalima, Minister of Gender. In addition, Zambia is the only country in the world to have introduced a monthly day of paid leave for women, a so-called “mother's day,” conceived to accommodate women's biological calendars and one that has caused inevitable controversy.

While the KGS initiative is a step in the right direction, it will, of course, take some time before the fruits of this endeavour can be harvested, particularly with regards to seeing more women in tertiary education and top executive positions. Executive Director of the Zambia Center for Accountancy Studies (ZCAS), Dr Alvert N. Ng'andu, spoke to TBY about the apparent decline in numbers of women in senior management, noting, “At one point, Zambia had several women as CEOs and so on; however, all of a sudden they seem to have disappeared. There is now a sort of void, with hardly any women taking over those roles, as if something had gone wrong with succession planning.” Yet, according to the Minister of General Education, Dr. Dennis Wanchinga, to tackle this deficit, we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. “There is a high dropout rate for a number of factors, and we want to change this so that women go on to play a more meaningful role in the country's development,” the minister told TBY.

Indeed, evidence has shown that better educated women are healthier, more likely to seek employment in the formal sector, earn more income, marry later and have fewer children, and are better equipped to support these children with healthcare and education. Many hopes, therefore, are pinned on the GEWEL program, a positive development that is pointing at those lower down in the education chain, nipping the problem in the bud.