Bridge Liberia is empowering a new generation of confident, successful girls. If you’re an 11-year-old girl living in one of the world’s most marginalised communities, you face less access to education than your brother, a greater likelihood of economic and social marginalisation, the prospect of forced marriage, early pregnancy, and increased maternal mortality. Being a young girl in many communities can be the most difficult hand to be dealt.
- 63 million girls between ages 6-15 are out of school and 16 million girls between ages 6-11 never enter one
- Only 34% of girls from the poorest households, living in the poorest countries complete primary school
- In Liberia, a girl is more likely to be married by 18-years-old than to know how to read and 63% of girls between the ages of 15-24 are illiterate.
Educated girls are healthier, have the skills to make choices about their own future and can lift themselves, their community and even their county out of poverty. For instance, a percentage point increase in girls’ education boosts GDP by 0.3 percentage points and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percentage points. Again, one extra year of education for girls increases their wages by between 10-20%. By educating girls we change the future of entire communities as women reinvest 90% of their income in their families, as opposed to 30-40% for men.
Bridge Liberia significantly improves learning outcomes for girls. Historically, in Liberia the poorest boy reader was scoring higher than the best girl reader. As a result of the Ministry of Education programme in Bridge Liberia’s supported schools, 5th grade girls’ average performance on reading fluency increased by over 27 words per minute. Once lagging by 10 words per minute, girls now outperform boys.
Mainstreaming women empowerment principles
On Wednesday, July 8, 2020, Liberia was greeted with the sad news of the passing of Representative Munah Pelham-Youngblood, Montserrado County District District 9 lawmaker of the governing party. Born September 22, 1983, the late Munah became one of the youngest lawmakers ever in the country’s history when she won her first term in 2011, a feat she repeated in the heavily contested district in 2017. She was an inspiration to women and girls and her influence straddled politics, entertainment, and education. In a heavily male-dominated legislature, Madam Youngblood’s passing is indeed a great loss for women, and this article could not be written without eulogizing her.
The improvement of education across the board is one of the most important factors in driving gender equity. World Bank and UNESCO Liberian data shows almost an equal ratio of males to females in our primary school enrolment. However, we look at the women in our lives and communities and know that it is not enough. If gender equity must be achieved to the fullest, then we must empower women and demand that all organisations in our society focus on doing so.
The United Nation’s Women’s Empowerment Principles is a good way to show our focus. Formulated by the UN Global Compact and UN Women, the “Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) are a set of Principles offering guidance to organisations on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community.” The UN WEPs “are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that organisations have a stake in, and a responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.” This should be automatically embedded into all organisations and societal cultures but until it is, the principles offer a good guide.
Promoting gender equality in education
- Bridge Liberia commissions all of its artwork and creative stories in text-books and work-books to ensure equal visibility of male and female characters, and specifically represent female characters in powerful, unconventional roles
- Teachers are trained to call on both boys and girls in the classroom. As fewer girls than boys usually tend to volunteer in class, teachers are trained to practice more cold calling to ensure equal participation.
- Professional development and classroom management techniques focus on encouraging girls to be leaders in and out of the classroom
Gender equality in schools
- Female teachers, school leaders and Area Supervisors provide role models within the classroom and community
- Pregnant girls are allowed and encouraged to stay in Bridge Liberia schools; a policy which has now been adopted nationally by the Government
- Young first time mothers are actively encouraged to return to Bridge Liberia supported classrooms by school and community leaders.
- A strict policy against the expulsion of teen mothers from our schools (read Jestinah Barleah’s story in the New York Times)
- A strict policy against the use of corporal punishment —meaning girls become more confident, expressive and engaged in class.
- Girls are given school leadership roles through appointments of Head Girls and Prefects.
- Girls can wear dresses, skirts or trousers depending on school activities.
- All schools have well maintained single-sex sanitation facilities
- Local partnerships with organisations teaching girls about sanitation and sexual health
- Regular child safeguarding training for teachers and school leaders.
Equality of educational opportunity and accountability
- Through its innovative wireless technology, Bridge Liberia engages in systematic gender-responsive monitoring to ensure effective evaluation of the progress of each girl child across indicators like attendance and academic performance
- Attendance is carefully monitored to ensure girls can not drop out from the system unnoticed.
- Parent-teacher associations meetings parents form a network of empowered partners—seeking accountability for their girls’ education