“Changing Social Norms to Universalize Girls' Education in East Africa: Lessons from a Pilot Project”

Written on 14 Mar 18 by Learning Portal Team, Annah Kamusiime
Gender issues in education
Social barriers to education


A collection of shared experiences from community-led interventions addressing gendered exclusion in schools in Kenya and Uganda.

Providing access to high-quality education for all children is a key global goal, but the progress made across and within regions is uneven. Generally in Africa, education challenges like poor access to education, poor quality education, inconsistent school attendance, dropout, stagnation and low completion rate affect both boys and girls but are more accentuated for girls. Girls’ education faces an intersection of gender inequalities, non-supportive norms, social cultural constraints like early and forced marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, and other institutional drivers embedded in policies, programmes and interventions that sustain exclusionary practices.

The edited book “Changing Social Norms to Universalize Girls' Education in East Africa: Lessons from a Pilot Project” (2016) asserts that social norms,  policy and practice should be looked at more carefully to understand how education systems continue entrenching inequalities, in particular in contexts where marginalization of girls is a pervading issue. As an output of the three-year pilot project 'Righting the Future: South-South Collaboration and Capacity Building for Universalizing Secondary Education for Girls in Africa” (RTF), this book reflects on how good practices  can be applied in the African context, specifically drawing from the experience of MV Foundation, a nongovernmental organization in India. Some of the best practices documented include building community demand and accountability for girls’ education, community mobilization to internalize and sustain a norm that All Girls should be in School, using strength based approach and employing an area based approach. The publication presents the feedback and shared experiences from community-led pilot interventions in Kenya and Uganda, which focused on identifying and changing social norms that exclude girls from school.

One of the key questions explored in the publication is that whereas poverty is an important factor to children’s education generally, there is need to understand that poverty interacts with other factors of social disadvantage to accentuate marginalization of girls’ education. This implies having creative approaches to negotiating with the narrative of poverty and empowering parents and care takers to go beyond the poverty sentence and support education of their children. Experiences recorded in the publication bring out many cases of poor parents who went beyond the poverty predicament and supported their children’s education.


Lessons from East Africa on gendered inclusion

Among the pressing challenges in education within the African region are enrolment, dropout, and completion rates, in particular for girls, who often face economic, institutional, and sociocultural limitations. Further, the absence of appropriate and effective policies aimed at addressing these issues deepens the vulnerability and hinders the improvement of girls’ inclusion at a school level. According to Okwany and Wazir (2016), this is why a critical approach in policy and research is needed to better understand the drivers of exclusion stemming from gendered norms at a policy and community levels. In identifying the disabling norms, policy and practice will be able to go beyond the predominant focus on resources, infrastructure, and institutional change.

Based on the feedback from community-led interventions in Kenya and Uganda, this book illustrates the effective ways applied in different contexts to engage with gender and social norms that prevent girls from accessing secondary education. Through the RTF project, in both countries a local NGO implementing project activities was supported by a local university to research and document and inform the process. As a result, the intervention gathered meaningful experiences and knowledge, as well as enhancing South-South collaboration and capacity building aimed at developing sustainable and locally-owned practices that improve access for girls to secondary education in East Africa. The RTF intervention was supported by the International Child Development Initiatives (ICDI) in collaboration with the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, a project implemented as part of the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education initiative (PSIPSE).

The chapters in the book illustrate how NGOs, in partnership with key actors have an impact on the inclusion of girls in education. Partners from academia reflect on the process of researching, documenting, and informing implementation activities in both countries, while different NGO actors provide analysis of their experiences in project sites where specific issues were identified as influencing – such as high HIV prevalence, pregnancy-related exclusion, post-conflict tensions, and widespread poverty.

“Lessons from a Pilot Project” seek to inform efforts to improve gender and education in Africa and other developing contexts, by illustrating how a community-driven, responsive model can be used to address the issue of girls’ exclusion from education. However, as the authors point out, for this approach to work it is necessary to critically analyse the social norms prevailing not only on the demand side (the community), but also on the supply side (in policies).

See the book


Coverof the book on changing social norms to universalize girls' education in east africa