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Rwanda: Enhancing the Rights of Girls to Education through the SWAP Process

Issue addressed

School enrolment in Rwanda has grown by an average 6 per cent per year since 2000, and net enrolment now stands at 92 per cent, with girls enrolling at a higher rate than boys. However, the achievement of gender equality at enrolment is compromised by the girls’ high drop-out and failure rates. Fewer girls complete primary school than boys, and they fail the exit exam in larger numbers. In 2004, only 22 per cent of girls passed the exit exam, compared with 34 per cent of boys. As a result, more girls than boys are barred from public secondary schools, and they end up in large numbers in private secondary schools of lesser quality and higher cost. Girls make up only 42 per cent of enrolment in public and subsidized secondary schools, and only 40 per cent in public higher education. 

Strategy used and actions taken

Given the above situation, UNICEF has pursued a three-pronged strategy: (a) advocacy and leveraging of resources for girls’ education; (b) development of norms and standards for girls’ education within a national minimum-quality framework and gender policy; and (c) inclusion of a school campaign to mainstream ‘best practices’ for girls’ education into education sector plans and budget.

As for the first prong of the strategy, in April 2006 UNICEF signed a memorandum of understanding with the Rwandan government committing to a harmonized and coordinated sector support process. In this regard, UNICEF provided support to a capacity-building pool fund (totalling US$250,000). This has effectively enabled UNICEF to place the agenda for girls’ education into education sector plans and to influence resource allocation. In addition, a stronger partnership for girls’ education is emerging among other donors supporting the sector. Assessment of the country for catalytic funds under MDG Fast Track Initiative (FTI) funding enabled UNICEF, together with DFID and the World Bank, to elaborate important indicators and strategies for the sector to achieve results for girls. The FTI catalytic funding (US$70 million; $26 million for 2007 and $44 million for 2008) that has been approved will now enable the sector to meet its funding gap until 2008.

Pertinent to the second prong, norms and standards for girls’ education have been included as part of a minimum-quality package (MQP) in the five-year education sector strategic plan. The norms and standards encompass such things as school facilities that are appropriate for girls and facilitate their participation, health and hygiene services for girls separate from those for boys, and care and protection guidelines that differentiate the needs of girls from the needs of boys. 

Finally, a countrywide school campaign aimed at improving the retention and achievement of girls in both primary and secondary schools was undertaken to address barriers and galvanize action at national, district and school levels. A priority of the Girls’ Education Taskforce of the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), and defined in the FTI assessment, the campaign is now to be integrated in the country’s three-year medium-term expenditure framework. It is important to note that the campaign involves a unique partnership between MINEDUC, the  Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and the First Lady’s office and will grant annual awards to schools that excel in retaining girl pupils.


This three-pronged strategy has led to increased political will and commitment for girls’ education, which in turn has led to greater national funding allocations: In 2006, a total of RF100 million was earmarked for specific girls’ education initiatives. The draft Minimum Quality Package was approved, opening up the possibility that ‘best practices’ aimed at minimizing barriers to girls’ participation in school can be scaled up. Finally, the school campaign, a key strategy for ensuring retention and achievement of girls, was launched in January 2007, and there are calls from key development partners to mainstream this campaign in annual funding.

Lessons learned

One lesson learned from engaging in the SWAP process is that coordination and partnerships between government, non-government and civil society agencies can provide advantages that no single agency can provide (better targeting of resources, the ability to scale up activities beyond single projects and improved support to national girls’ education programming). However, the increased time and effort needed to coordinate partnerships and achieve consensus on key points must be taken into account: Partners must be prepared for the additional administrative work needed to coordinate planning and interventions.

Additionally, funding nationwide programmes often takes more resources than can be pooled or provided by all agencies. Thus, under the SWAP process, activities must be prioritized so as not to exceed the available funds. For example, the school campaign was instantly attractive to government and development partners because of its nationwide implications; however there was not enough funding for all activities and in 2007–2008, fundraising will be necessary to cover costs after 2008.

Finally, there is a need to balance the implementation of area-based projects and policy-level engagement, which makes major demands on staff capacity and skills, especially in view of the heavy constraints placed on national and district government capacity by civil service reforms. UNICEF is now involved at both the national level and the community level, advocating for long-term changes in policy nationally while helping to maintain the delivery of educational services locally.

Remaining challenges

Planned future activities for UNICEF include: (a) supporting the development and implementation of a capacity-building plan for the education sector that fully integrates Rwanda’s girls’ education outcomes, (b) conducting an evaluation study on progress in achieving gender goals in the education sector and to support capacity building for gender analysis, (c) continuing the school campaign and (d) developing guidelines for the implementation of the Minimum Quality Package.



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