‘5 million girls through school in the next 5-years’: How CAMFED is changing the lives of girls in sub-saharan Africa

by Women’s Agenda
Tuesday 11 October 2022

CAMFED secondary teacher smiling with students

According to UNESCO estimates, 129 million girls across the globe are out of school, including 32 million of primary school age, and 97 million of secondary school age. It's not surprising that the campaign for gender equality hinges squarely on turning these staggering statistics on their head.

The Campaign for Female Education, (CAMFED), is helping to do just that by tackling poverty, inequality and injustice through girls’ education and women’s leadership in sub-saharan Africa.

A pan-African, grassroots-led movement, CAMFED is revolutionising how girls’ education is delivered and laying a new foundation for social justice, women’s leadership, economic development and climate change.

Founded in 1993, CAMFED was formed by a local community and traditional leaders in Zimbabwe to address issues relating to girls not being in school– the biggest barrier being poverty. Since then, the organisation has collectively supported more than 5.5 million children to go to school and more than 33,000 young women have started a business in that time.

The original idea was to bring the community together, open up a conversation and discuss ways to ensure more girls had access to school, became leaders and broke the cycle of poverty.

What developed next was the CAMFED Association, a network of young women leaders who’ve come together to support the next generation in their communities after being supported themselves by CAMFED as girls. 25 percent of CAMFED’s executive team were members of the Association.

Director of Communications at CAMFED, Anke Adams says, “That network then helped us develop and introduce the programs that institutionalised the change we want to see and that gives [girls] the extra support that the school system isn't providing such as life skills, sexual reproductive health training, entrepreneurship, access to loans after school and training in climate smart agriculture.”

This vast network of support gives CAMFED a cascading effect where growth is easily possible. It’s a model that’s fairly unique to the organisation in that it allows for long-term community commitment to girls' education.

Many barriers exist in the face of girls’ receiving education in Africa, including gender-based violence and child marriage. Often, girls are pushed out of the school system and their only choice is child marriage because of a lack of support set up for them.

Adams gives one example saying that an impoverished family might believe that an offer of marriage to their daughter is their only way to afford food for the rest of their children. Gender-based violence can then appear once the girl is trapped in the relationship with a child, leading to her school career ending— and the cycle of poverty continuing.

Barriers to girls’ education aren’t always financial either. Sometimes, the school is a long way away from her home, leading to a risk of sexual violence occurring on her journey there.

Adams also notes: “If girls are growing up in a society where the expectation is that they'll get married early and be mothers and they have no role models in their communities that show them that girls can have another path, then they often don't even have the motivation to learn.”

Changing the environment in schools to become a safe and encouraging place for marginalised girls to thrive is on CAMFED’s agenda.

Adams adds that all of these issues are interlinked with patriarchal societies and the existing gender norms that we see persisting all over the world.

With poverty being a contributor to child marriage, we also must ask what the contributors to poverty are in order to break this cycle. Climate change translates directly into poverty, especially in developing countries and therefore, is a necessary conversation to have.

At the grassroots level, CAMFED’s work is in supporting communities to thrive in the face of climate change. The organisation then strives for young women to gain the skills and opportunities to be a part of the policy making tables that make long term impact towards fighting climate change.

MECCA M-POWER is proud to have collaborated with CAMFED since 2019, providing thousands of marginalised girls and young women with the tools to build independent lives of purpose and self-determination.

“Educate girls and they will become role models and plough back into their communities” - and that’s exactly what CAMFED’s innovative and unique model aims to achieve,” Lisa Keenan MECCA M-POWER’s Executive Director says.

“The incredible programs delivered by the CAMFED teams are rewriting the futures of vulnerable girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa and we’re delighted to continue our partnership into the future.”

As for the future of CAMFED, Adams says they’ve got a strategic plan that’s in the second year of implementation. The goal is to support 5 million girls through school in the next 5-year period. Then, to also support women into business and climate smart agriculture.