Transformative Education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa

Every year, the Commission on the Status of Women serves as an important forum for women’s empowerment, gathering dedicated champions for gender equality from all over the world. Its 66th session (CSW66) puts the spotlight on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.

New York, 16 March 2022: To highlight the role of women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa in transforming education for a sustainable future, UNESCO and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations, in cooperation with other partners, held a virtual side-event on the sidelines of CSW66. The event “Women and Girls in sub-Saharan Africa: Transforming Education for a Sustainable Future” brought together key stakeholders to examine the gender dimensions of the impact of climate change on girls’ and young women’s education in different contexts, including its repercussions on the 12-year goalpost for education.

Over the past two decades, educational development in Sub-Saharan Africa has been characterized by substantial gains in girls’ access to schooling at all levels. However, particularly for adolescent girls, sizeable challenges remain in accessing inclusive and equitable quality education. Women and girls with disabilities are even more disproportionately impacted in their access to education. Across the region, 9 million girls between the ages of about 6 and 11 will never go to school at all, compared to 6 million boys. Their disadvantage starts early: 23% of girls are out of primary school compared to 19% of boys. By the time they become adolescents, the exclusion rate for girls is 36% compared to 32% for boys.

“Climate change and environmental emergencies deepen inequalities and perpetuate multiple forms of discrimination against women and girls, including in their access to quality education”, said Marina Sereni, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy. “Investing in education means investing in the future: implementing gender responsive recovery strategies is essential to enable girls and women’s empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa”.

Echoing Mrs Sereni and highlighting how the climate crisis is making parts of the world unlivable by women and girls, Stefania Giannini, Assistant-Director General for Education at UNESCO, emphasized the importance of integrating Education for Sustainable Development in national policies and educational curricula in sub-Saharan countries. She stressed that it is essential to address climate change with a whole-school approach and rethink the way schools and learning environments are built and organized. She also stressed the important role ESD can play in addressing gender stereotypes that are undermining African girls from accessing STEM studies or careers. She concluded by recalling that the UN Secretary-General Transforming Education Summit, to be held in September 2022, will be a pivotal moment to mobilize commitment around Education for Sustainable Development and so tackling the deep-rooted gender inequalities arising from the environmental crises in sub-Saharan Africa.

Niger and Kenya added their voice in recognizing the global urgency to mainstream ESD into national curricula and pedagogical approaches. H.E. Ambassador Abdou Abarry, Permanent Representative of Niger to the United Nations, underlined that as a member of the Security Council, Niger has consistently called for the recognition of climate change as a major factor contributing to armed conflict and so undermining education opportunities for the most m vulnerable, especially women and girls. This is why Niger is advocating for the increase of international partners’ technical and financial contribution to ensure girls’ education as well as the promotion of education for sustainable development. He concluded by saying that the Transforming Education Summit is the perfect opportunity for the international community to build renewed commitment towards education. Kenya’s representative highlighted her government’s dedicated efforts in hosting the Global Education Summit, co-hosted in cooperation with the United Kingdom and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in July 2021, and stressed the commitment to actively promoting Education for Sustainable Development in educational curricula.

Representatives of the United Nations, the academia, the civil society, as well as youth activists, also participated in the meeting to share their collective, intergenerational and sustained actions needed to limit the impact of climate change on girls’ education, and to build a more sustainable future.