In this post, I wanted to pick up on some of the excellent review offered by Melanne Verveer and draw some further attention to the recent report titled “Closing the Gap: Adolescent Girls’ Access to Education in Conflict-Affected Settings” from the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. The report itself is well worth a read as it provides a necessary context for truly understanding the scale of the problem and why current efforts are falling short.
First, the capacity side of the equation and perhaps not surprisingly much of this is funding issue. Current levels of funding (offered by primarily 40 humanitarian assistance providers, yes 40) will not approach the over 59 million people displaced worldwide. According to the report, donors account for about 50% of what is required, but most of that isn’t earmarked for education. Only 2% of aid for conflicted-affected and fragile states is education-specific. We are starting to see what the report refers to as “protracted crisis situations” (e.g., Syria), where “relief and recovery” must expand so development partners can complement and supplement the work of humanitarian actors.” Ultimately, this becomes a matter of reconfiguring aid and development itself: budgeting, working teams, impact measurements all need to shift as a result. But it is a necessary and ultimately productive shift.
Picking up from Melanne Verveer, there is an unprecedented scale involved in these recent crisis situations that necessitates this shift with “sixty-two million girls around the world are not in school, and at least 20 million of them live in conflict-affected and fragile settings as refugees, internally displaced persons, or otherwise vulnerable populations.” We agree wholeheartedly with the following:
“There is a clear link between gender inequality, lack of access to education, and conflict. Four of the five countries that currently have the largest gender gaps in education also experience high levels of conflict. As millions of refugees continue to flee Syria to seek safety and security in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, schools are increasingly overwhelmed and overburdened.”
But beyond the immediate need, beyond the protracted crisis situations, beyond any sort of altruism or duty, this is an investment in people that promises a return. “Investing in education for girls is a key factor in sustainable development — it lowers maternal and infant mortality, reduces early or forced marriage, increases financial independence, and boosts economic growth. When 10 percent more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases on average by 3 percent, and wages rise 20 percent for every year beyond fourth grade that a girl remains in school. The data on this issue is clear: Educating girls strengthens families, communities and societies.”
Solutions are there as well, solutions that have generated results. Solutions, however, must address the social norms surrounding the education, what barriers these girls might be confronting if and when the education becomes available, many of which are outlined in the report. Social isolation at the onset of puberty. Disproportionate burdens of household work and care-giving. Withdrawal from, and lack of safety in, public spaces. Sexual and gender-based violence. Lack of financial support. Education can and should address these social and financial barriers to entry. While programs might have some elements of transferability across locales, they can never lose sight of the local conditions (which are ported into the displaced environment) that bar, restrict, or deter entry to education.
As both Verveer and the report state, some of the solutions that might prove scaleable are often nontraditional, precisely because of the lack of capacity in the formal education sector. Catch-up” courses, accelerated learning programs, courses in local languages, education orientation programs, open-source technology, distance-learning courses. To address personal security, we see interventions springing up in direct response to local needs: the community-led “walking school bus” in Lebanon that ensures safe passage, the NGO operates a mobile learning center in a bus, a Bangladeshi NGO that established clubs that target girls ages 13-21 to provide life skills and financial literacy training, sexual health, and family planning, and safety. A USAID initiative with the Afghan Ministry of Education that developed community-based education programs to provide education outside the classroom setting: homes, mosques, and community centers to provide a safer and community-supported approach to education. From 2006-2011, the Afghan program reached 105,000 students who were previously out of school, 65 percent of whom were girls. OpenEMIS Refugees (developed by UNESCO) tracks education data in emergency settings to help us make sense of it all.
So even with the swell of displaced persons, the fragility of their existence, and the limited opportunities posed to them educationally, continue to see education as an investment. Particularly for girls. Particularly at this time of greatest need. There are models out there so get creative. Address the local need with direct responses to the social norms that might be inhibiting education in the first instance.