Protecting Girls’ Right to Education: Data-Driven Advocacy in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is dealing with an alarming security crisis, which has been ravaging the north and east of the country since 2015. The people most affected by the violence are women and children under the age of 15, the vast majority of whom are girls. Girls find themselves in an even more complicated situation, with the destabilisation of the already fragile health system due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which first hit the country in March 2020.

The attacks have forced millions of people – particularly women, girls and children – to flee their homes. One of the most violent recent attacks occurred during the night of 4 to 5 June 2021 in Solhan, in Yagha province (in the north-east of the country), which left around 132 people dead according to the government.  Since the attack, almost 7,000 people are thought to have fled the affected region[1].

As education is now a new target for terrorism, large numbers of girls have lost out on their education after an attack has taken place. In early March 2020, the Ministry of Education, Literacy and the Promotion of National Languages (MENAPLN) reported that over 2,500 schools were closed because of attacks or insecurity, negatively affecting 350,000 pupils. These data conceal the often overlooked and worrying situation of girls’ education, since girls are some of the main victims of the attacks. Data gathered from the technical secretariat for education in emergencies show that 2,212 schools were closed on 5 February 2021. These closures directly affected 147,577 girls and 12,366 teachers, 4,481 of whom are women[2]. The security crisis is compromising access to education for girls and women in Burkina Faso and at the same time, exposing them to gender-based violence such as child marriage, early pregnancy, sexual abuse and rape.

The solutions for ending girls’ loss of schooling and the spiral of violence to which they are exposed means engaging in advocacy with political decision-makers. Women’s rights organisations in Burkina Faso are running campaigns to end all forms of gender-based violence, encourage education for very young children, develop leadership and empower women and girls. However, they face numerous difficulties associated with a lack of real, tangible data. The Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme (Pananetugri Initiative for Women’s Well-Being – IPBF) and its partner, EM2030, are responding to this concern – thanks to funding from the Canadian government – by implementing the “Data-driven advocacy for girls’ education in emergencies in Africa” project.

One of the project’s flagship activities is advocacy involving the IPBF’s network of partner associations. There are 25 of these organisations, from eight regions in Burkina Faso. The network consists of associations, NGOs and state bodies that deal with issues involving girls’ and women’s rights, particularly girls’ education. They are divided into three working groups representing three regions in Burkina: the Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre and Centre-North. Advocacy campaigns based on conclusive data and evidence will be run in the three regions and centrally. The aim is to influence decision-makers so that they make education for girls and women in crisis situations and/or who have been displaced because of insecurity a priority. 

Each of the working groups will produce a case study on topics related to girls’ education in crisis situations in their area so that they have access to conclusive data and can produce evidence to support their advocacy efforts. There are also plans to run four major advocacy campaigns in various regions: first, communication through mass media (radio and television); secondly, meetings with regional decision-makers in the education sector (mayors, municipal councillors, governors, regional directors of education, presidents of regional councils, regional directors of pre-school, primary and non-formal education and regional directors of post-primary and secondary education); thirdly, participation in decision-making bodies such as regional and national round-tables, municipal council meetings, the board of the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for Gender Rights (SP CONAP Genre) and the revision of Regional Development Plans; and lastly, meeting with the Minister of National Education and the Promotion of National Languages.

The commitment shown by the IPBF and its partners is a beacon of hope for girls’ and women’s rights organisations and for thousands of young and adolescent girls affected by the security crisis, who dream of continuing their schooling and having the same chances of success as others.

[1]  TV5Info:

[2] Source: Map of data commissioned by EM2030, April 2021

Leveraging Data to strengthen Girls’ Education in Emergencies

By Nadia Ahidjo, Program Manager, Girls’ Education in Emergencies in Sub-Saharan Africa

As we look at most public projections for 2021 and prospects for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I think the most depressing bit of news is that if we continue as we are, all girls will only get to go to primary school in 2050. Despite numerous commitments to the girl child in the SDGs, the many laws and policies that governments have enacted, and the significant resources that go towards education for all; far fewer girls are in school and learning than should be. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 30 percent of primary school-age girls are out of school.

When one thinks about countries faced with conflict, terrorism, and fragility, the picture worsens. On the African continent, there appears to be no end in sight to the instability disrupting girls’ education. 2020 was supposed to be a landmark year for the African Union to “silence the guns” and put an end to conflict, but current trends tell a completely different story. There are growing, and dare I say it, alarming rates of refugee and internally displaced populations — IDPs were over 5 million by the end of 2019 in West and Central Africa. This is an increase of over 30 per cent in just 12 months. Despite these shocking figures, refugees and IDPs often remain invisible, and are rarely factored into national policies, severely limiting their access to quality education in emergencies. Humanitarian responses provide some stop-gapping, but are limited in their reach; in 2019 only 2.6% of humanitarian aid funding went to education.

This is heightened for girls in patriarchal societies — they are kept out of school in times of crisis and face significant barriers to education and vulnerabilities including child/forced marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, and gender-based violence both in and out of school. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation with school closures and diminishing financing of girls’ education in emergencies. None of these bode well for the future.

The challenge of ensuring access to quality education for girls, even in times of crisis, is further compounded by the lack of data that can help address gaps for both boys and girls, which does not enable the resources that do exist to be tailored to the actual needs on the ground in times of crises. Where the data is available, it is often not leveraged as it should be to ensure policy makers are informed and act accordingly. Recent research by the Agence Francaise de Developpement found that “although data collection on education has expanded enormously in Sub-Saharan Africa, few countries have robust data systems and even fewer are exploiting their data to improve their education systems.”

For Equal Measures 2030, these challenges should encourage us not to despair, but to collaborate with local actors who continue their work with vulnerable women and girls in times of both stability and crisis — especially local women’s rights organisations. By working with local women’s rights organisations, we can leverage the skills and experience of actors who are closely connected to girls and women in affected communities. We can also leverage new approaches to ensuring quality education for girls in emergencies. Through its work with women’s rights organisations in seven countries, Equal Measures 2030 has learned that when partner organisations ground their advocacy in data, they are more likely to reach their influencing goals. For example, EM2030 partner Kapal Perempuan cited the importance of data in their successful advocacy to change the child marriage law for girls in Indonesia. And our partner GROOTS Kenya’s “efforts to improve the availability and use of gender data have been recognised by the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, and they have been invited to play a formal role in the Inter Agency Committee on gender data statistics.”

Data can strengthen advocacy as it shows consistent patterns that require attention and action. Data is also useful in identifying effective solutions and can be used to hold governments accountable for their policies and commitments. This is summed up well by a partner respondent to our 2017 survey on capacity development needs: “No matter which route you go down, either using government data or using your own evidence that you produce, for me one of the more important questions is, how do you then use the data, or how do you use the evidence in a way that it’s facilitating you to achieve policy change? And I think that is something that quite a lot of people do need support with.” Equal Measures 2030 (EM2030) supports learning tailored especially for women’s rights organisations about how to understand and use data effectively in advocacy, covering topics including finding and advocating on data gaps and communicating data to different audiences, to name a few.

Cognisant of the power of data in the hands of women’s rights organisations, the Government of Canada, in line with its commitments in the Charlevoix Declaration, and its Feminist International Assistance Foreign policy, is supporting a bold partnership with EM2030 and its partners, FAWE and IPBF[i], based in Kenya and Burkina Faso, to drive equitable and coordinated provision of education for girls and women. Both FAWE and IPBF are renowned as thought leaders and changemakers for girls’ education in their countries, and on the African continent. FAWE aims to empower girls and women through quality education and training to give them necessary skills, competencies, and values to be productive members of their societies. They work to promote gender responsive policies, practices and attitudes and foster innovations that will provide opportunities for African women to prosper in all realms of their lives. IPBF aims to empower women and girls to defend their interests and overcome obstacles. They focus on developing female leadership and agency, especially among girls and young women.

Over the next year, we will work closely with our partners and other stakeholders in both countries to support advocacy and convening, working towards the ultimate goal of ensuring that education systems are data-driven and gender-responsive. This partnership will draw on EM2030’s specialized tools and data like the SDG Gender Index and recent Bending the Curve data. And we’ll also be producing new research and data together, to better understand the data landscape and to map opportunities and challenges for girls’ education in fragile regions of Kenya and Burkina Faso.

On the International Day of Education, we join UNESCO and other stakeholders including the Global Partnership for Education in championing the 2021 theme to ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation’. As we think about fragility through crises, and the ways in which this pandemic has thrown most of our education systems into disarray, it is even more urgent to leverage data to protect and ensure safe, accessible and quality learning spaces for girls.

[i] The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-être de la Femme (IPBF)

Generational Change in India: How might raising the legal age of marriage from 18 to 21 change the lives of girls?

By Aarushi Khanna, Regional Coordinator Equal Measures 2030 and Sahaj**

India is home to the highest number of child brides in the world. UNICEF estimates that almost half of the child marriages in the world happen in South Asia, 1-in-3 of which are in India[1]. The existing legal framework sets the minimum legal age of marriage for girls in India at 18 which the current political leadership is considering revising to 21. An announcement in this regard was recently made by the Indian Prime Minister in August 2020. Women’s rights organisations and gender equality advocates have expressed their apprehension about the proposed change in the law.

Decisions around marriage in India are governed by a complex set of compounding factors: poverty; dowry where the younger the bride, the lower the dowry expectation; a way to protect the family honour; a means to prevent rape and pre-marital sex; and perceptions around labour and productivity[2]. All these factors serve as obstacles to conforming to the child marriage law. This is also the reason families consider education for young girls as less of a priority and more of a futile investment since girl’s productive capacities are often believed to benefit her marital family. The practise of early marriage is often justified by parents and guardians as a means of securing girls’ future and protecting them from the risk of physical and sexual violence. The law in its current form is also used by parents and community members to control and punish girls from choosing their own partner. In reality, it is a means of exercising control over young women’s bodily autonomy.

Though declining, the practise of child marriage is clearly rampant in India. Even 40 years after the enactment of the current Child Marriage Prohibition Act, the number of young women to be married under 18 remains extremely high, 1-in-4 [3]. The proportion of women aged 20–24 who were married before age 18 was 50% in 1992–93, 47% in 2005–06 and only saw a noticeable dip of 19% between 2005 and 2015[4]. Increased access to education, increased literacy of mothers, and government investment were contributing factors that have enabled this impressive dip in the last decade. India’s progress has been strong but not fast enough to eliminate the practise by 2030.

So why is the government looking to revise the age of marriage law?

Two reasons:

  • To achieve better maternal health outcomes: Early marriage in India is linked to early pregnancy and the subsequent increased risk of maternal mortality. The government is of the view that increasing age at marriage would delay age at first pregnancy and would lead to better maternal and child health outcomes.
  • The other compelling argument supports demographics: Delaying age of marriage is linked to delaying age at pregnancies and likely to reduce the overall number of pregnancies[5].

Sahaj, our partner in India is of the view that this approach is rather simplistic and removed from the ground reality. Improved maternal and child health outcomes rely on financial stability, good nutrition, and level of education and not just the age at pregnancy. Being part of the national and state level advocacy on the issue, Sahaj believes that the conversation needs to focus on factors that enable young women to be empowered to make informed decisions. Over the last decade India has seen a decline in both child marriage and fertility, these shifts have not been an outcome of legislative changes but a result of investment and interventions in health, education, skilling, and financial inclusion. The government must be cognizant of these factors and recognise that a legal intervention at this point is unnecessary.

In my opinion changing the age at marriage won’t lead to a reduction in maternal mortality. The real cause for that is the lack of and poor quality of maternal health services available.” 18 years old, peer educator, Vadodara, Gujarat

So, what can the government do? Here is a list of other areas that the government might focus on to eliminate this harmful practice by 2030.

  • Invest in improving education outcomes for girls. At the current pace of change an estimated 68% of girls ages 20–24 will have completed secondary education by 2030[6]. All barriers that lead to increased dropouts by girls must be identified and addressed to ensure that every girl completes secondary education by 2030.

  • Improve access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) to promote bodily autonomy, increased decision making and healthy sexual behaviours and activities that are linked to a decrease in risky behaviour and contribute to eliminating harmful practices. School closures due to Covid-19 are further hindering the delivery of CSE and reproductive health information.

  • Invest more to ensure universal access to quality contraception, maternal health services, and safe abortion services. India’s progress on meeting contraception needs of married women only improved by 6.9% between 2008 and 2018[7]. Reproductive health services have been severely impacted by Covid-19 and are likely to impact progress on contraceptive access across India.

  • Create job opportunities. The pandemic triggered a migration crisis in India. The announcement of the lockdown resulted in massive job losses of daily wage laborers who had migrated to large cities for work. It is estimated that over 10.6 million migrant workers returned to their home state with no further income prospects[8]. In such times of socio-economic uncertainty, migrant parents with young daughters are marrying them off early to secure their future and ensure their well-being.

  • Listen to girls and keep their interest at the centre of all policy and programme. Covid-19 has led to major disruption in the education system with the closure of schools and their lives, increasing risk of early marriage and other harmful practices. When Sahaj spoke to young women in different parts of Vadodara (Gujarat) about their thoughts on proposed change in law they said….

It’s my appeal to the government to change the education system, improve the quality of teaching in government schools, provide compulsory computer training, provide scholarships and vocational training to start businesses and work so girls are not a financial burden on their family and can negotiate life decisions.” 21 years old, Vadodara, Gujarat

India has committed to eliminating the practice of child marriage by 2030 as a part of the Sustainable Development Agenda. Covid-19 is adding another layer of complexity, there is a fear that years of progress made on the issue may rescind. The children’s helpline in India has already reported a 17% increase in distress calls related to early marriage in June-July this year compared to 2019[8]. In this context India must prioritise improving access to education, quality sexual and reproductive health and nutrition while empowering young women and girls.”

**Members of the Sahaj team include Hemal Shah, Nilangi Sardeshpande, Rashmi Deshpande, Renu Khanna, Vaishali Zararia

[1] marriage#:~:text=While%20the%20prevalence%20of%20girls,the%20prevalence%20of%20the%20practice.



[4] National Family Health Survey — 2,3,4 estimates


[6] Equal Measures 2020 Data hub 

[7] Sahaj Bending the Curve Factsheet, 2020