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Ethiopia, 23 February 2015: Girls’ education: an unusual music video but a familiar tale

Though I am hardly an expert on the music industry, I understand that it is fairly unusual to see a music video about the life and struggle of a young girl in pursuit of an education. But that’s exactly what has been accomplished with the music video for SOJA’s ‘Shadow’ – produced in collaboration with UNICEF. It depicts a girl in Ethiopia who struggles against poverty, discrimination and local customs to go to school. And I am impressed!

Though the music video may be unusual, I know from experience and evidence that the story is not.

In my work as a senior education advisor for UNICEF, I have travelled to many villages throughout the world that look a lot like the village depicted in the video. And I’ve met many girls in similar situations.

One girl who has made a lasting impression was a 14-year-old I met in a remote village in Nepal.

This girl – a young woman, really – was the star pupil at an accelerated learning centre supported by UNICEF. She had been married off to an older man at age 12 and had been abandoned at the home of her husband’s family while he worked in India. Acting alone, she returned to her own village, and, as a result, was considered an embarrassment to her family. Her father decided that she might as well try going to school. It was a decision that changed her life.

When we spoke, the girl was eloquent about her opposition to child marriage and I was inspired by her experience and achievements. She also introduced me to her father and I could tell that, far from being embarrassed by his daughter, he was now proud of her success.

In a still from the Shadow music video, a young girl attempts to teach herself to write by copying words from a piece of newspaper.

The accelerated learning centre where I met this girl is one of many second-chance learning opportunities that UNICEF supports around the globe. Second-chance education is a way to provide flexible learning environments for girls who have been excluded from school because of gender-based discrimination, which is linked to other barriers such as poverty, child labour and child marriage.

Often multiple barriers interact to make education only a dream for many girls. However, as I see it, the most pervasive barrier to education is gender-based discrimination, power relationships, and attitudes that place more importance on the education of boys than the education of girls.

The music video tells a common tale of a girl struggling to access education and it shows a girl succeeding. However, the numbers indicate that there are still many millions of girls who are out of school. For example:

  • 53% of out-of-school children worldwide are girls
  • About 18% of lower secondary school age girls, typically age 12 to 15, are not in school
  • 10% of girls of primary school age are not in school
  • 15 million girls worldwide are not expected to ever go to school

Despite these figures, we have made great progress in the past 15 years. But there is still work to do to realize the right of every girl to a quality education – for her own personal progress and fulfilment and also for the development of her community and the world.

Changu Mannathoko is senior education advisor at UNICEF headquarters in New York. She has also worked in UNICEF’s regional office in Nairobi and travelled to more than 20 countries.

Soja, a reggae band from the United States, donated the rights to the song ‘Shadow’ for this video. The song is from the band’s album ‘Amid the Noise and Haste’, which was nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award.



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