Children doing it for themselves
In 2003, the South African Minister of Education launched the Girls’ Education Movement (GEM) in Parliament. UNICEF supported the National Department of Education to roll out GEM in all of the country’s nine provinces.
GEM is an African child driven grassroots movement where children and young people in schools and communities throughout the continent work to bring positive changes in the lives of African girls and boys. GEM aims to:
It is now widely recognized that investments in girls benefit the whole of society. Educated girls become women who participate in the social, economic and political life of their nation. Educated women are more likely to be healthy, have smaller families and to have healthy and educated sons and daughters.
A South African flavour
In South Africa, GEM is a dynamic vehicle that mobilises school communities to become more responsive to the needs and rights of the girl child. It is integrated into a broader UNICEF and Government of South Africa ‘Child Friendly School Plus (CFS+)’ programme. The ‘plus’ means that schools are also encouraged to become centres of care and support for orphans and other vulnerable children.
An important component of the child-friendly school concept and GEM is training pupils in peer education and life skills. In this way, schools become a means of reaching the wider community with information on how to prevent gender-based violence and HIV and AIDS, address drug abuse, discuss sexuality and stress the importance of girls’ education.
Giving children a voice and a chance to participate in decisions that will affect them at home, in school and the community at large contributes to building tremendous self-esteem and courage through empowerment. Children are therefore more likely to stand up for themselves and take action against negative impacts on their lives.
A good example is the case of a 15 year-old girl in Limpopo who was married off to a much older man. She dropped out of school after the marriage. Her female classmates went to the house where she lived with the man and started chanting and singing for her to come back to school. This went on for days until the husband became so irritated that he called the young girl’s parents to take her back (story shared with the author by Mary Monelela, Deputy Chief Education Specialist, National Department of Education).
Girls and boys unite
GEM is implemented through school-based clubs. Clubs are not the exclusive domain of girls but include boys as ‘strategic partners’ in gender transformation. “I am my sister’s keeper” is what boys are encouraged to embrace. With UNICEF support, more than 2,500 learners and educators have been trained since 2002 as trainers in the theory and practice of gender responsiveness that is fundamental to GEM. They are in turn training peers in their schools on how to best work through GEM.
Since many schools already have extracurricular clubs, they are encouraged to incorporate GEM principles into existing activities. Different schools interpret GEM in their own way and activities are as varied. Examples of GEM activities include:
With support from UNICEF and input from students, teachers and parents, the Department of Education is designing training manuals, brochures, posters and pamphlets. These will be used to strengthen the positive impact GEM is already having in many schools. There are also plans to expand GEM to include exchange programmes with other African countries.
The Technogirls project supports and guides girls in making informed career and life choices, with an emphasis on professions using maths, science and technology. School girls aged between 15 and 18 are drawn from previously disadvantaged communities, with participants from rural areas are given priority. Learners come from public schools and are selected on the basis on their scholastic potential. They are placed in corporate companies where they undergo a mentoring and skills development programme with opportunities for scholarships.
Technogirls further builds on and supports the values of GEM in that it aims to tap into the value of young women and allows them to excel in the previously male-dominated fields of science and technology. It creates a platform for young girls to gain experience as interns in companies and organisations that could support their growth and development in these areas. Technogirls therefore become the vehicle
I am my sister's & brother's keeper: Girls & Boys Education Movement Clubs - A guidebook for schools
This booklet is a result of a consultative process with learners, educators and parents to develop guidelines that will help learners to start a Girls and Boys Education Movement (G/BEM) club in their schools. The guidebook gives learners practical ideas on activities that can be implemented.
(PDF documents require Acrobat Reader to view.)
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A school is ‘child-friendly’, if it is: