In 2004, less than half the girls living in Burkina Faso, Africa, attended primary school. But thanks to advocacy on the part of Women Thrive and others, the U.S. government launched a program to help turn things around. Six years on, we’re seeing big changes on the ground in these girls’ lives.
A Problem Addressed
A lack of schools, days filled with household chores, and early forced marriages left little chance for the girls of Burkina Faso to receive an education. In 2004, less than half of the girls there attended primary school. Right around this time, a new government agency –The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – was forming to bring innovative approaches to the fight against global poverty. Women Thrive seized this opportunity to make sure that gender was top of mind for the agency.
As Congress was establishing the criteria countries must meet in order to qualify for foreign assistance dollars, Women Thrive noted that the general primary school completion rate fell short of its potential. This percentage did not address girls’ inabilities to enroll in school, let alone complete it. The MCC responded to our call for gender considerations, by replacing the general primary school completion rates with a criterion of girl’s primary school completion rates . Without our advocacy efforts, officials could have missed the opportunity to ensure that half of the population had access to school.
A Program Launched
And so began the Burkinabe Response to Improve Girls’ Chances to Succeed (BRIGHT) Project. This MCC funded project encouraged school attendance among girls who previously had no access to education. Primary schools and houses for teachers were built, as were separate latrines for boys and girls. There was also funding for textbooks, canteens, and take-home rations. It was implemented in 132 villages across 10 provinces in Burkina Faso.
Early on, an independent assessment was conducted and found that while enrollment for both boys and girls improved 16 to 20 percentage points as a result of the BRIGHT program, the evaluation showed a slightly higher improvement for girls particularly. The study also showed that the BRIGHT school program had a positive influence on math and French test scores. Although initial results were good, its future was uncertain.
Some members of Congress proposed U.S. budget cuts, which threatened to eliminate programs financing the improvement of schools around the world. The MCC signed a compact with Burkina Faso in which they agreed to provide the country with approximately $480 million for food production, education, and girls’ empowerment.
A Dream Realized
In 2011, Women Thrive was able to see the impacts of our advocacy first-hand, when two BRIGHT students came to Washington, D.C. for an MCC event. Aissa Diallo and Yata Fatimata, attended “Gender Equality for International Development Effectiveness,” where they spoke about their experiences with the BRIGHT program and their aspirations to become teachers or doctors. Women Thrive Co-founder and President, Ritu Sharma, was also a guest speaker.
On the panel, Ritu discussed Women Thrive’s role in making sure the analysis of Burkina Faso’s school systems fairly integrated gender issues, explaining, “If MCC had not embraced that change in the eligibility criteria, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt there are hundreds of thousands of girls in Burkina who would not be in school today.”
A Story Continued
Meanwhile, the BRIGHT II Project was launched, with The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), among others, leading the implementation of this project. This project, funded in part by the MCC Compact, has been working since October, 2009 to add more classrooms to the same 132 schools in the region. BRIGHT II will also construct playgrounds, provide students with meals for all nine months of the school year, and fund social mobilization programs, adult literacy, and training in micro-project management.
To date, the program, including work performed under the MCC compact, has educated over 27,000 students, including 16,000 girls.
The Compact with Burkina Faso is in force until July 2014. Women Thrive Worldwide will continue to push Congress not to cut U.S. assistance programs, like the BRIGHT project, and will do our part to ensure that girls everywhere get the education they need to succeed long after this program comes to a close.