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Leaders for Education Series - Angélique Kidjo

Benin. 2007. Angélique Kidjo holds up a slate with the message "Papa and Mama, I want to go to school," at a children's centre at the Dantokpa Market in Cotonou.

Angélique Kidjo, the dynamic West African singer and songwriter, was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2002.  Ms. Kidjo is a passionate advocate for girls’ education and is the founder of the Batonga Foundation which supports both secondary school and higher education for girls in Africa.  She speaks to us about the impact education has had on her life and the importance of educating girls for a better and brighter future.

You are a successful international singer-songwriter and activist. Were there elements in your education that inspired you and shaped your worldview?

My parents always insisted that I had to pursue my education at a time when, as a teenager, I was already making a living. They told me that I had to fully grasp the world to be a real artist. My education has allowed me to travel all over the world and help promote the beauty of the African culture. History is a key element of education. Discovering the history of slavery and apartheid has greatly influenced my music.

Because of my education, I feel I am at home in every country I visit. I am able to connect and interact with people from different cultures.

You founded The Batonga Foundation that promotes girls’ education, and are a dedicated UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. What inspired you to get involved with girls’ education?

When I started my work as a Goodwill Ambassador, UNICEF was implementing a programme promoting girls’ education called, “Go Girls!”  Meeting with girls benefiting from the programme in Africa made me realize they are the future of Africa.  I saw how educated girls can make a huge impact when they become mothers and active members of their communities. I understood that educating girls lays the groundwork for transforming societies, by ending inter-generational cycles of poverty and disease. I founded The Batonga Foundation to contribute to this transformation. Batonga grants scholarships to girls, builds secondary schools, supports mentoring programmes, improves teaching standards, provides school supplies, builds dormitories for girls who live far from schools, and raises community awareness to promote and support girls’ education.

In your experience, what are the obstacles girls face in terms of access to quality education?

One of the biggest obstacles is the organization of the family and poverty. If mothers are working during the day, they need the older girls to take care of the younger kids at home. This is why there is a big drop-out rate at the end of primary school. We must find incentives to help mothers find solutions to send and keep their daughters in school. Abolishing school fees is key. Providing free lunch, school supplies and school uniforms have been proven to be effective in keeping girls in school. Schools also need to have qualified teachers. Also critical is girls’ safety, both in schools and traveling to and from school. We have to make sure girls are safe in school so they can learn, grow and achieve their full potential.

What is your message to policy makers and global leaders about gender equality and girls’ education?

When you look at the education system and gender inequality in America 50 years ago, you realize how much has been accomplished in two generations.

Now there are far more young women enrolled in higher education than young men. The more girls and women are educated the more discrimination disappears. We need to start this process now to change the Africa of tomorrow. African women will enrich the continent! This is my deep belief.

Is there anything else about education and your work that you would like to add?

I was really lucky to receive a great education. It has allowed me to accomplish so much that I feel I have to do whatever it takes to give the same chance to every little girl on my continent.



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E4 - Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality Conference
Related links
Click here for Angélique Kidjo's biography


Visit The Batonga Foundation