|Defeating Hunger and Ignorance - Food Aid for the Education of Girls and Women (UNESCO - WFP, 34 p.)|
The preceding chapters reviewed the various WFP initiatives in the field of education in general and in promoting the education of girls and women.
School feeding projects have always been the cornerstone of WFP interventions in education. But it was difficult to speak of an equal distribution of aid or equal access to WFP resources under these projects, since the number of girls benefiting from school feeding was often inferior to that of boys. The situation has considerably changed since the Beijing conference and WFPs pledge to support women and girls in all its projects.
With the Commitments to Women and by supporting female education through its principal resource, food, WFP provides beneficiary countries with an additional means of breaking the vicious circle of gender inequality. Food aid makes it possible to enrol and maintain girls in school longer so that they can benefit from education and socialisation, thereby becoming people who are able to contribute to their own development and to the progress of their country.
Some of the activities undertaken by WFP in this field have already demonstrated their effectiveness, whilst others are still in a preliminary phase. Time will certainly be needed before it will be possible to judge the real impact of the WFP Commitments on women and girls in the field of education.
However, some aspects can already be identified as necessary conditions for the success of these activities:
WFP must co-ordinate with government policies and action plans for the education of girls and women where they exist. WFP support for female education is thus only effective if it is part of an overall government policy in this field. As a general rule, governments define priorities and objectives for female education and WFP provides assistance to attain these objectives. However, in countries with a serious problem of under-education of women but no official strategy in this area, WFP can engage in discussions with governments in order to help and encourage them develop national action plans which it will subsequently support.
Local communities must be consulted over these programmes through a participatory approach which will:
- identify the exact causes for low education levels of girls and women;
- obtain the opinions of the community on what can be done;
- ensure that the use of any given strategy (for example, positive discrimination of girls, provision of take-home rations for girls) is acceptable to the community and will not meet with resistance;
- ensure that the programme corresponds to local conditions (for example by identifying the best frequency for distributing dry rations);
- identify with the community the different activities it can undertake on its own, thereby promoting a spirit of self-help (outside aid is only used when absolutely necessary);
- ensure that the community has a correct understanding of the purpose of these activities (for example, that dry rations are not distributed for their general wellbeing but to enable the girls to go to school). The use of participatory methods, which are recommended in any education project, is even more important when it comes to the education of girls and women, precisely because of the socio-cultural factors mentioned before. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the community to determine these factors itself, to find remedies and fully identify with the programmes.
The community must be involved in the programmes: Community participation in projects specifically targeting girls is essential. It brings the school closer to the community, whose points of view, perceptions and practices influence womens and girls education. When the communitys viewpoint on women and their role in society changes, its attitude towards womens education also changes. When the community is confined within conservative attitudes towards women, there will be little chance of it accepting education for girls. One of the strategies for opening the community to female education and social change in general consists in involving it and/or reinforcing its participation in the implementation of educational projects.
Parents need to be sensitised about the importance of girls education, especially when take-home rations are used to overcome obstacles to the schooling of girls. This will ensure the sustainability of the projects by inculcating new ideas into the community. There is often a concern that once the project has ended, families might tend to withdraw their daughters from school. It is to be hoped that with sensitisation accompanying the distribution of dry rations, this risk can be reduced or eliminated. Sending girls to school and seeing them attend regularly, may, in the long term become a habit, which communities will not abandon overnight. Moreover, the knowledge and attitudes acquired by girls during a project (which lasts on average four to five years) represent benefits which will last long after food aid has been withdrawn. Finally, continuous sensitisation exercises stimulate changes in behaviour and the acquisition of new attitudes and habits, which make a lasting contribution to the education of girls and women.
Activities specifically aimed at promoting womens education need to be complemented through other, more general activities aimed at improving the overall situation of women. To ensure the success of support programmes for female education, these activities should not be of a one-off, isolated nature. It is important that they should be integrated with other government/donor activities.
Supplementary funding needs to be identified for the implementation of certain activities: the nature of WFPs main resource, food, may limit the range of its operations. It is therefore necessary to find supplementary funding, for example, to produce visual materials for sensitisation campaigns. In order to overcome this difficulty, WFP set up in 1996 a funding mechanism to support various activities in favour of women implemented by Country Offices. For its interventions in the education sector, WFP needs to reinforce its cooperation and co-ordination with United Nations agencies and other organisations working in the field, such as NGOs, village youth associations, womens groups, etc. The expertise, experience and skills of these partners, in conjunction with the efforts deployed by WFP to promote womens education, will create synergies and facilitate the attainment of the goal of universal education which governments receiving WFP aid have set themselves.