UNICEF girls education
Girls attend class in Za’atari, the world’s second-largest refugee camp. Credit to: UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani

The beautiful thing about learning is no one can take it away from you.
– B.B. King

In partnership with UNICEF and the Global Education First Initiative, I moderated an online discussion on Gender Sensitivity and Girls’ Education. You can find the discussion online at World We Want: Week 2. The discussion was started in recognition of the importance of fresh and creative perspectives to propel girls’ education forward.

In this discussion, we had individuals from many different countries participate, including: Tajikstan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Uganda, USA, Cambodia, Nigeria, Malawi, and more.

To initiate the discussion, we asked the following questions:

  • What barriers are there to gender sensitivity in education?
  • Why are girls less likely to attend school?
  • How can you seek community support for efforts to promote gender sensitivity in education and empowering girls?
  • What methods and tools can be used to work with school administration and teachers to encourage gender sensitivity?

The following sections will summarize the discussion.


In this discussion, we received a large number of responses with so many implemented strategies and initiatives. To say the least, I was inspired. Here are a few:

  • Counseling and support to female students in Malawi,
  • hygience facilities at schools in Rwanda,
  • language classes for females in Spain,
  • professional women mentors for young women in the STEM program in the USA,
  • girl-friendly schools in West Africa,
  • school management committees in Nigeria, and so on.

One of my favorite examples came from a woman named Beatrice. Beatrice works with Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation (PCE) of Eastern Uganda. She understands the power of community-orientated solutions to stimulate development. She shares her story:

“After my degree I got a job, a well-paying job, and was able to support my family. I decided to support my community too! This marked the formation of Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation in 2011. I started with the girls; connecting rural Ugandan girls with mentors/sponsors from across the globe who pay for their secondary and tertiary education as well as nurture their dreams. Today, through the Rural Girl Child Mentorship project (RGCM Uganda) , we have 67 girls enrolled in good Ugandan boarding secondary schools and university, with over 1612 pending applications from highly motivated, poor, and vulnerable girls who we are currently unable to support due to lack of funds. Girls get married by the age of 12 because their parents cannot afford secondary education.”


In response to our questions, here is a summary of some challenges girls face in obtaining an education.

  • Hygiene, sanitation and menstruation related issues – lack of facilities, limited access to healthcare; lack of facilities, limited access to healthcare
  • Violence against girls and child marriage: many  young girls are married to older men or sold into prostitution without regard for their future.
  • Girls and parents least informed about the importance of girls’ education;
  • Traditional gender roles;
  • Lack of girls’ schools;
  • Girls have lesser opportunities for jobs, nor to earn as much as men for the same work
  • Women don’t reach their full potential to contribute to society because of the above issues. This is a concern for everyone; society as a whole suffers.
  • These issues are usually invisible to society because they have been around for generations and they are part of the culture;

“Other [challenges] being equal, lack of educational facilities with competent teachers is the greatest difficulty children of both sexes encounter in many areas of the world… But we know, we cannot consider ‘other things to be equal’. This is due to two main reasons: a) Cultural restrictions on girls’ behavior; and b) Abject poverty that denies children time for education by forcing them to labor. Dealing with cultural restrictions … is a task that would take time and a subtle humane approach that would cause least offense to deep-rooted monolithic sensibilities.” – An analyst from Norway 

Innovative Strategies

The following are some methods and strategies presented by participants to encourage gender sensitivity within schools and increase the number of girls attending school:

  • Subsidize products like Skype to assist communication with the community and outside resources. One organization, BILQA (Bilim Qanoti “Wings of Knowledge”), a nonprofit organization in Tajikstan, organized a mentorship project involving phone calls and Skype to discuss girls’ academic achievements and how to help them improve.
  • Safe transportation to school.
  • Girls’ school separate from boy’s schools – teach women-specific issues openly.
  • Provide proper sanitary facilities, nutritious meals, skills to earn a living (i.e. sewing machines and tailoring). A participant in Rwanda shared a project to build hygiene facilities that are also environmentally friendly and collect water from the roof. They trained teachers to run girls’ clubs where they taught about feminine hygiene.
  • Mentorship. Providing friendship and mentorship to girls can be a great way to keep girls in school, as long as it is culturally sensitive. It can also help girls to feel safe at school.


  • INEE: Gender-sensitive education in emergencies – Toolkit can be viewed online
  • Open Circle, a comprehensive, grade-differentiated social, emotional and academic learning program for grades K-5 children, their teachers, administrators, other school staff, parents and other caregivers 

Although this discussion may apply more directly to girls’ education in low-income nations, we can all be involved in this discussion, actively engaging our own communities to create innovative solutions and promote girls’ education.

{ Raise your voice for girls’ education }

“Education can transform the lives of girls and strengthen their communities,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Innovation can help us reach every girl by transforming education.”

Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.
– George Lucas

To view the full report, visit Summary of the E-discussion on Innovating for Girls’ Education.

Read more about girls’ education on Girls’ Globe:

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