(A UNESCO feature)
“I would be out of school and married now without the help of our community facilitator,” says Meet Ruth Mayiani, a 12-year-old student from Kajiado county in Kenya.
Through the work of Girl Child Network, laureate of the 2020 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, Ruth is now in grade 6 revising for her end of the year examination. She dreams of completing her education to be an engineer.
“Becoming a laureate of the UNESCO Prize has been instrumental to the work of Girl Child Network, and in particular to support community facilitators and village tracking committees in their work,” says Mercy Musomi, Executive Director of Girl Child Network.
These groups challenge harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriages known to prevent girls’ education. They also identify out of school girls, and facilitate their enrolment and retention in school.
For communities like Ruth’s in Kajiado county, poverty is one of many factors preventing girls’ re-enrolment in school and continuity of education. With the added financial hardships, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, families are forced to consider alternative means to make ends meet, most often at the expense of education.
According to a report compiled by head teachers from schools in the area through the Ministry of Education, 25% of learners are yet to report back to school. This is especially the case for the majority of girls and young women, many of whom have dropped out of school due to adolescent pregnancy and early marriages.
“The current context is proving to be a challenging one”, explains Mary Tanny, Ruth’s community facilitator. “Depressed income streams are leading households to opt to marry off their young girls.”
Ruth’s father was one such example. He had to marry off his daughter in exchange for livestock and other monetary assistance to support his family.
Although marriage rituals and dowry negotiations were well underway, Mary and other Girl Child Network community facilitators promptly intervened in Ruth’s favour. After a week-long process with her family and community members, the marriage was stopped and Ruth was able to safely re-enrol in school. She is now determined to study hard.
“With the resources received from the Prize, we were able to visit families weekly instead of monthly, and move from one village to another with ease to reach more girls,” says Mary. The increased frequency of visits allowed Mary to hear about Ruth’s planned marriage and plan a rapid intervention.
The work of Girl Child Network is also transforming perceptions on girls’ education within communities and families: “Mary taught me that education was a right for all and convinced me to allow Ruth to continue her education,” says Ruth’s father. “Now, I will do what it takes to support my daughter’s education.”
Since becoming a laureate of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2020, Girl Child Network has strengthened its work to increase girls’ access to education in Kenya’s hardest-to-reach areas.
Nearly 100 cases of early marriages were prevented, enabling girls to continue their education.