Empowering Women & Girls
Focusing on the furthest behind first, Aidlink targets some of the most isolated and marginalised communities in Africa, the nomadic pastoralist Masai and Turkana in Kenya and the Karamajong in Uganda, and focusses particularly on women and girls within these communities.
Within these patriarchal societies, women and girls have little or no agency over their lives and face many challenges and barriers to education including poverty, hunger, poor facilities and negative social practices such as child marriage and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) among the Masai.
Aidlink is committed to working for gender equality. Empowering girls through education is a vital tool in the fight against poverty. Educated women are healthier, have fewer children and earn more money to provide for themselves and their families.
“To educate girls is to reduce poverty” -Kofi Annan
Our work focuses on making school more accessible for girls by:
- Providing access to clean, safe water so girls can be in the classroom learning instead of walking for hours to collect water for themselves and their families
- Providing sanitation facilities in schools that include changing rooms so that girls can wash and change during menstruation in comfort and no longer have to miss class (up to 1 week of school per month!) due to a lack of privacy
- Training students, teachers and communities on child rights, sharing the benefits of education and the dangers and disadvantages of Gender Based Violence (GBV) such as FGM and child marriage
We know that this approach works. We have seen a 27% reduction in absenteeism among girls and a 46% increase in the number of girls completing school in our target schools in Kajiado County, Kenya and we can see that attitudes towards education and girls’ rights are changing in the communities we work with.
Maparasha Parent’s Association: Making School Healthier, Happier, Safer Place
From the age of puberty Masai girls are often subject to harmful social practices such as FGM and child marriage. These are breaches of local laws and human rights, a hazard to their health and often a signifier of the end of their education.
Aidlink, together with our partners the Girl Child Network, have been working with Masai communities for over ten years to make education a reality for Masai girls and to bring an end to FGM and child marriage.
The Maparasha Parents’ Association, trained by Aidlink and GCN, are now at the forefront of the fight against FGM and child marriage. They are providing leadership in changing attitudes from within their community and showing courage as they report cases to the authorities of what used to be celebrated cultural rites of passage.
While we are seeing some progress in changing attitudes towards FGM, we have concerns that this form of GBV is being pushed behind closed doors. We take little consolation in the fact that girls who have been subjected to FGM are now allowed to return to school and marriage is postponed to later in life.
There is still a long way to go in the fight for gender equality and upholding the rights of women and girls. Aidlink places education, both in school and within communities, at the centre of this change.
Kabulokor’s Community Conversations: Talking for Change
Kabulokor is a small village in Loima sub-County, Turkana. Despite school being free, less than a third of the children in the village attend.
Johanna Loyok explains: ‘For most people here, education isn’t a priority. The favourite boy always minds the animals, while girls are expected to look after the family, doing domestic chores until they can be married off in exchange for more goats, camels and cows’.
Recently trained by Aidlink and our local partner the Girl Child Network, Johanna holds monthly ‘conversation’ meetings where he brings the community together to discuss child rights, education, and the community’s role in ensuring that every child attends school. The community has begun working together to report cases of child marriage, sexual assault, and child labour to the authorities, and “out-of-school” children are identified with a committee established to carry out household visits in order to ensure that every child is enrolled in school.
‘Little by little, the community’s attitude towards education is changing’ says Johanna, ‘especially for girls and children with disabilities. It may not happen overnight, but I believe community conversations are a vital tool to achieve gender equity in education and empower the community to seek change’.