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Charging ahead on girls' education without grassroots support?

Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard launched the Charge initiative in September 2014. Photograph: Pool/Reuters

This article was originally posted on The Guardian website on 20 April.

Many working on the issue of girls’ education are concerned about talk of a job well done on millennium development goal two: achieve universal primary education. While primary enrolment figures may have reached reassuring rates in many countries, levels of school completion, transition and the quality of education still needs to be addressed. 

In response to such concerns, Hillary Clinton and former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard announced the launch of Collaborative for Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Girls’ Education (Charge) last September. The initiative emerged from the Brookings Center for Universal Education and its global partners and commits over $600m (£403m)to reach 14 million girls over five years. 

Charge seeks to tackle the “second generation issues” of girls’ education, which Brookings describes as: the 30 million girls who are still not in school; beyond parity – a quality education for girls; school violence - girls should not have to risk their health and their lives to get an education and livelihoods and leadership – education should lead to decent employment.

Charge is concentrating on sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia and it involves more than 30 companies, civil society organisations, multilaterals and governments to improve learning and leadership opportunities for young women and girls.

For the NGO Brac, the world’s largest private, secular education provider, the Charge commitment is an opportunity to bring all of its girls’ education initiatives under one roof. “The Charge mega-commitment gave us a chance to lay out our ambitions to reach millions more, some with tried-and-tested means, others with more innovative programmes,” explains Brac USA’s Scott MacMillan.

As well as access to funds (the Mastercard Foundation have committed $30m), being part of the coalition provides partners with a forum in which to share notes about what is working and what is not. “As we move from quantity to quality, this [information sharing] will be incredibly important,” says MacMillan.

However Khadim Hussain, the chief executive of Grace Association in Pakistan, which is part of Charge, says that he doesn’t feel enough has been done to help local grassroots organisations to offer their unique expertise. “Small organisations can work well on ground,” he says. “But they are not necessarily that capable or strong in proposal writing and reporting like mega-organisations.”

Hussain suggests that the initiative should offer greater support to small organisations and community groups so that they, rather than international NGOs, can sustain girls’ education programmes and projects at the local level.

The director of the Nigerian development Research and Projects Centre(dRPC), Judith-Ann Walker believes the initiative has prioritised local-level leadership. “Charge has brought together leading local and global voices in girls’ education to create a movement of change agents committed to the completing the unfinished work in girls’ education through projects that let communities lead,” she says. “I would not be a part of the Charge movement if my voice, as a local level actor was not valued and respected.”

Over the years, dRPC has worked with unlikely girls’ education champions – such as the Emir of Anka in Zamfara, the first state in Nigeria to launch sharia law, and the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria – to provide religious precepts and to build schools so that girls can remain in education.

How the initiative’s resources are allocated to nurture local empowerment that can drive progress on girls’ education is an issue which, according to Walker, needs more conversation within the Charge movement. “That means empowering all actors in the global south,” she says “not just the girls, but also community leaders and resistant voices so as to persuade them that girls education is good for all of us.” 


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