What is Future Girls?
Founded in 2021, Future Girls is one of our flagship programmes bringing together everything we have learned about girls education in past and present projects. We grew to understand that, amongst other things, the burden of household work, risks to health and safety, and a lack of resource for managing periods, all meant girls were far more likely to drop out of school, or achieve lower grades.
Future Girls aims to ensure a whole school community is empowered with the knowledge, resource and confidence for girls to attend and achieve in school. Using the existing, but often inactive, Girls Clubs that exist in Ethiopian Elementary schools, girls, boys and staff were invited along to explore, and learn about important gender topics. Guided by a facilitator, a safe space for sharing and supporting was established, as students discussed for the first time, their challenges with gender norms, puberty and their rights against exploitation.
Students went on to present their discussions to the whole school during monthly assemblies and an annual event to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day. Together We Learn offered small grants and resource towards school improvements identified by the students, which involved fixing toilets, providing water tanks and soap, and creating girls’ rest rooms. We were also able to distribute 227 re-usable period packs with generous donations from Days for Girls UK and implement school systems to make pads available to female students who need them.
With pro-bono support from Enable-Ed, we were able to sit down with teachers, girls, boys and the Future Girls Ethiopia team to assess the impact of the project so far.
100% of Girls Clubs participants said that they improved their knowledge of girls’ issues during the project. Girls, boys and teachers had a better understanding of menstrual hygiene, girls’ rights, gender based violence and gender norms. Empowered with this information, girls and boys who had attended the club became more confident to discuss and support each other on issues related to gender. Boys told anecdotes about helping more around the home for their sisters, and girls described being confident to rest during their periods at home and at school.
The stigma and embarrassment traditionally associated with periods was reportedly reduced, with girls feeling much more comfortable to ask for help and resources at school. When period packs were distributed, this was always accompanied with teaching on how to use the packs and care for menstrual health and hygiene. Presentations on International Menstrual Hygiene Day empowered pupils from the Girls Club to involve the whole school in their education, and reached over 5,460 students and teachers. Multiple schools requested more reusable period pack distribution, stating that there remains a shortage in access to sanitary towels for girls, affecting their attendance. Whilst girls’ drop out rates regionally sit at around 18%, none of the girls involved in the project dropped out, suggesting this could be one way of helping girls stay in school.
During the programme, members of the club became more aware of, and willing to stand up for, their own rights. The number of girls who strongly agreed that their opinion was important at school rose by 33%. Teachers spoke of the club becoming a mechanism for safeguarding girls from harm. Some girls used the club sessions to speak up about abuse and violations of their rights, and club leaders were able to intervene and protect the children from any further harm. Whilst bullying was still common, girls did report a decrease since joining club. This varied greatly from school to school, and it was noted that schools where the Director was brought in to the programme, were more positively impacted on a whole-school basis.
The evaluation concluded that Future Girls had been a highly impactful and relevant programme, complementing Together We Learn’s work and goals. It highlighted the importance of finding ways to sustain the programme for the long-term, ensuring it is led by the teachers, girls and boys at the heart of it. The students have added numerous topics they would like to include in the programme, and we are now looking forward to a new year of Future Girls in 2023-2024. We hope to reach more students, with more benefits like those experienced by the Future Girls of our first few years.
If you are interested in supporting this project, please get in touch.