Celebrating 4 champions of girls’ and women’s education in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic

Anoziva Marindire
Posted March 18, 2021 from Zimbabwe
From left to right: Prof. Sarah Agbor, Ann Nassanga, Catherine Nakabugo, and Mebi Djam Espoir Achi.

Written by Dr. Rita Bissoonauth and Anoziva Marindire (This blog article was first published by the Global Partnership for Education.)

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, 53 African Union (AU) Member States shut down all educational institutions to curb the spread of the virus, affecting over 250 million students in sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of which were girls.

In spite of setting up continued learning spaces in the Member States, anecdotal evidence shows that girls have experienced difficulties in accessing these distance learning facilities amidst this health crisis and have faced increased exposure to child marriage and teen pregnancy.

It is estimated that over 1 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa could face the possibility of being barred from school due to policies and practices that ban pregnant girls and young mothers from attending classes according to a brief published in February 2021 by the GPE Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) Observatory on COVID-19 Responses in Africa's Educational Systems.

In September 2020, the African Union Centre for Girls & Women's Education in Africa launched #AfricaEducatesHer, a campaign to rally African Union Member States and key education stakeholders to take action towards ensuring girls’ continued learning and re-entry to school during and post COVID-19. The campaign has garnered responses from education actors and youth across Africa, who took pledges to act in their communities and areas of influence to ensure girls can return to school.

The #AfricaEducatesHer campaign was also spotlighted during the 5th High-Level Dialogue on Gender and Education in February 2021, featuring AU-CIEFFA youth champions, artist Youssou N’dour, and the Cabinet Secretary for Gender in Kenya speaking on behalf of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Co-hosted with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Norway, UNICEF, UNESCO, and Save the Children, it was an opportunity to discuss domestic and external financing, plus the investments needed to get girls back into school and sustain their learning in the COVID recovery.

As we marked the International Women’s Day 2021, whose theme was “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” we celebrate four African women who have been taking action and leading the fight to ensure girls and women continue learning during and after the pandemic.

Prof. Sarah Agbor, AU’s Acting Commissioner of Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation (ESTI)

Prof. Agbor is the AU’s Acting Commissioner for ESTI formerly Human Resources, Science, and Technology (HRST), and a passionate advocate for girls and women’s empowerment through education. Under her leadership, the HRST department has become a powerful voice within the Commission, campaigning for girls’ and women’s right to education during and post-COVID-19. When the AU/CIEFFA launched the #AfricaEducatesHer campaign, she became one of the first African Union leaders to call on African countries to join the campaign and promote policies that would enable girls to continue learning during and after the school lockdowns.

Afrie, award-winning musician

Ann Nassanga, whose stage name is ‘Afrie’, is a 26-year-old Ugandan vocalist, pianist, filmmaker, and advocate for girls' and women’s education. As an AU/CIEFFA champion, she is using music and filmmaking as tools to educate young women and girls on the importance of education with a particular focus on digital literacy. She penned the #AfricaEducatesHer theme song titled: “Let Her Know (I am an African girl)”, where she encourages African girls to go to school. Through Afriedom, a group of women filmmakers and artists, she is training young girls in digital storytelling and filmmaking to and make their voices and their own stories heard. Afrie’s soulful voice was the anthem of the AU/CIEFFA 5th High-Level Dialogue on Gender Equality in Education.

Mebi Djam Espoir Achi, girls’ education advocate

Espoir is an award-winning advocate for girls’ and women’s empowerment who launched two projects in line with the #AfricaEducatesHer campaign to get girls and women back to school after the COVID-19 pandemic. She rallied the support of the Embassy of France in Cameroon to launch the “Girls Return to School project.” This national initiative saw Espoir and her team of youth volunteers going around Cameroon and creating awareness about national, continental, and international legal instruments and laws that safeguard girls’ right to education and protect girls against gender-based violence. Through the “Men Who Protect Women” project supported by the German Embassy in Cameroon, she is producing short advocacy films to highlight the role men can play in safeguarding girls’ and women’s rights in Cameroon.

Catherine Nakabugo, teacher and founder of Direct Hand Foundation

Catherine is one of the top 50 finalists for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize and founder of Direct Hand Foundation, an organization that empowers out-of-school girls through the promotion of technical and vocational education and training and entrepreneurial initiatives in Uganda. As schools were slowly reopening in 2020 after the COVID-19 related shutdowns, Catherine noticed that a lot of girls were hesitant to return to school due to the fear of contracting the virus. She designed and promoted a COVID-19 hygiene toolkit for girls, comprising a face mask, hand sanitizer bottle, and two reusable pads. These kits were distributed to schools across Uganda and her idea has been replicated by AU/CIEFFA alumni in other parts of

Comments 9

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Tamarack Verrall
Mar 18
Mar 18

Hi Anoziva,
Wow. When I look at these 4 strong women's faces and read about what they are all accomplishing, I feel such hope. I see such love, determination, talent and ability, and celebrate that they are each out in the world, busy and inspiring other women and girls. The photos are stunning, they are each looking directly out at us with such love, and determination. All of your links show so much good work being done, by a number of special, caring people.

Anoziva Marindire
Mar 19
Mar 19

These four are a reminder to me that we can make a difference and be voices for women no matter our position or field of work.

Renu Paswan
Mar 19
Mar 19

What all i can say, strong woman never give up. Thank you for being the one

Anoziva Marindire
Mar 19
Mar 19

Thank you Renu

Nini Mappo
Mar 21
Mar 21

Dear Anoziva,
I am very encouraged to read this glowing report of women mentoring girls in education and leadership using different approaches and mediums. Thank you for honoring their work so that we can celebrate them with you.

charlenegailtaruwona

Dear Anoziva,
It is always a great thrill to read about the amazing work that women are doing to better the lives of girls. I am motivated to do more. Thank you

ARREY- ECHI
Mar 25
Mar 25

Dear Anoziva,
Thank you so much for this beautiful piece. It is just so beautiful reading about these powerful women and what they are doing for the girl child. Thank you for letting us know about these champions.
I must admit that when I first saw the pictures, I almost danced because the first picture zoomed on my face and I was like eh, eh Aunty Sarah dong join WP.

That's my aunt and she's a powerful, go-getter and I am glad to see her works highlighted here. As a woman, I feel pride in seeing women changing the dynamics around us. As a Cameroonian I am happy and hopeful seeing two Cameroonians driving the change.
Thank you.

KABAHENDA KIGGUNDU
Apr 06
Apr 06

Dear Anoziva,
Thank you so much for writing this uplifting piece about African women using the resources at their disposal to ensure that girls in Africa stay in School.

The innovation and leadership displayed these women is remarkable given that in most cases stories from Africa particularly in time of COVID-19 tend to be bleak.
I do hope their example gets replicated in other parts of Africa.
I am in total awe of these women. Africa need many more women like them.

More power to Professor Sarah Agbor, Ann Nassanga, Catherine Nakabugo and Mebi Djam Espoir Achi. All the best.