Addressing the Multidimensional Barriers to Girls’ Education in Niger
Niger is among the world’s countries with the lowest girls’ enrolment, retention, and school completion rates. According to UNICEF, 2.5 million children and adolescents are out of school. 5 Only 19% of girls in rural areas complete primary education. This number drops to a worrying 8% among the poorest communities. The low female education rates directly translate to long-term gender inequality and systematic social and economic disempowerment of women. 
A complex range of barriers prevents the fulfillment of girls’ rights to education in Niger, including harmful social beliefs, norms, and practices and a lack of recognition of the importance of girls’ education. Moreover, conservative and traditional women’s roles are associated with religious beliefs. Finally, girls undergo a heavy burden of domestic labor and are exposed to early marriage and teenage pregnancy.
Niger has the highest child marriage prevalence rate in the world according to UNICEF, with 76% of girls married before the age of 18 and 28% married before they turn 15 years old. The link between education and the prevalence of child marriage is particularly evident in Niger: 81% of women aged 20-24 with no education and 63% with only primary education were married or in a union at the age of 18, compared to only 17% of women with secondary education or higher.
In 2017, the government raised the mandatory school leaver’s age for girls to 16 – but much work remains to be done to change conservative social norms that prevent girls from accessing education and women from being socially and economically empowered. Acute poverty prevents families from paying school-related costs for girls, and insecurity puts girls at risk on their commute to school in Tillaberi, effectively preventing their attendance.
Moreover, schools are insufficiently prepared to provide a safe and conducive environment for girls to be educated. Teachers lack training not only on basic pedagogy but also on the concept of gender-sensitive education and creating safe schools for girls. There is a lack of female teachers as role models for providing girl-sensitive psychosocial support and life skills education. Classrooms are overcrowded and poorly equipped, and there are insufficient education materials to create a quality learning environment.
Since 2021, RET Germany, in partnership with the local non-governmental organization “SongES” – Soutien aux ONG à l’Est et au Sud Niger- has been implementing a project to promote access and retention of girls in quality primary and secondary education, coupled with social and economic empowerment of women for inclusive and peaceful development in the Tillabéri Region. The project is implemented in the three localities of Sakoira, Hamdallaye, and Tamou in the Tillabéri region, targeting ten schools (Seven primary schools and three colleges).
Education, particularly the education of girls, is one of the primary three outcomes of the project. The education component encompasses a range of activities intended to facilitate access to and retention of girls in schools.
In 2022, RET opened 12 accelerated learning centers in 10 schools in the three communes of Hamdallaye, Sakoira, and Tamou.The locations were chosen not only because of the high number of drop-outs and non-enrollment of girls but the willingness of parents to enroll their kids, especially young girls in schools, the community’s commitment to the construction of spaces serving as classrooms, the commitment of the community to provide accommodation for the facilitators, the facilitation and involvement of school support structures.
Accelerated Learning Centers in rural areas
During this first year of implementation (2022), RET reached and enrolled 352 children (out of 900), including 286 girls and 66 boys, in the accelerated learning centers. Out of the 352 students enrolled, 177 were cases of drop-outs, and 175 children were out-of-schools. These numbers include children with disability and internally displaced children. The attendance rate of learners recorded in the 12 centers is 95%. Following the five months of regular teaching, students from the 12 accelerated learning centers were evaluated, with a 70% success rate. A total of 235 students (183 girls and 52 boys) were transferred to the 4th grade in the formal education system (CE2) and 104 students to the 3rd grade of the formal education system (CE1).
Rouheimatou is a 12-year-old girl who benefited from the accelerated learning courses organized by RET in Niger. Coming from the village of Kolondia in Hamdallaye, Rouheimatou did not have the opportunity to attend a school like her peers. Her father, who was the only provider for the family, left in an exodus several years ago. This departure greatly disturbed and affected Rouheimatou. While her mother wanted her to attend school, she did not. With the opening of the Accelerated Learning Center by RET and SongES, Rouheimatou agreed to enroll along with 30 other out-of-school children at Birni Kolondia.
Rouheimatou was not attending classes regularly and was absent because of the precarious living conditions she was living with her family; she felt frustrated. Having noted these repeated absences, the field facilitator visited Rouheimatou and her mother at home. They discussed at length the importance of attending the courses to facilitate the integration into formal education and the impact of education on the living conditions of the family and the community. Despite her recurrent absences at the beginning, she has now become a regular student. She is currently one of the best students to read and write among her peers, as per the testimony of her teachers.
Building the capacity of teachers to provide an enabling and safe environment for girls’ education
The teachers, recruited from local areas, were provided with numerous training, including the accelerated learning methodology and training on pedagogy following a “Child-Friendly Quality School approach.” Moreover, training on Gender-Sensitive Teaching Approach (GSTA), Child Protection (CP), Gender-based Violence (GVB), and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH), including identification and referral of cases of violence (sexual, child marriage, etc.) and menstrual hygiene management, were also provided, coupled with topics on School Safety, especially for girls, Covid-19 Protocols, Peace-building and conflict resolution, life skills, establishing and monitoring of school committees…etc. RET has built the capacity of 114 (out of 174) local teachers and educational supervisors.
Within the accelerated learning program, a psychosocial support component for teachers was included to reduce the stress experienced by teachers as a result of the unstable security situation and potentially assess traumatic experiences amongst the education staff. RET developed a methodological note for trainers’ psychosocial activities and training modules and supported more than 30 teachers, including 19 female and 11 male teachers, with monthly psychosocial support sessions to date.
Community Engagement is key
RET trained and supported pre-established community school committees to manage and monitor schools and established new committees at ten primary and secondary schools, as well as established Girl’s Clubs.
The committees, including the “Decentralized Management Committee for Schools – Primary,” the “Management Committee for Secondary Establishments,” the “Association of Educating Mothers,” and the “Association of Parents of Students” are key to participating in the management and monitoring of schools and in guaranteeing engagement of the members of the communities and ownership over the project’s objective to promote education and girls education.
The committees are responsible for sensitizing and training the populations for the promotion of schooling in general and education of girls in particular; developing the school’s internal regulations; acquisition and/or reception as well as in the management of textbooks and school supplies; ensuring preventive maintenance of school infrastructure; follow-up and attendance of teachers in collaboration with heads of establishments and administrative staff…etc., amongst other responsibilities.
The “Association of Educating Mothers” is responsible for training and sensitizing the population in favor of the promotion of girls’ education; regularly monitoring the performance of students, especially girls; improving access and retention of students in school by providing them with a safe environment for learning; contributing to the organization of complementary courses and reinforcement of students’ knowledge; raising awareness on early marriage and early pregnancy of girls; undertaking actions aimed at improving access and retention in school for students in general and girls in particular.
The mapping and analysis of existing committees have identified six student committees in 6 primary schools, also called “School Government,” and the establishment of additional committees in Birni Kolondia primary school and two committees at secondary school. Sixty-nine students make up the seven school governance committees, including 24 girls.
In addition to the multiple school committees established and trained, RET set up ten girls’ clubs in 10 schools, engaging 100 girls at CE level (3rd year of primary school). The girls’ clubs will serve as a reference and a support group for girls’ education. The girls, members of the clubs, will organize regular activities, including study sessions, and raise awareness on hygiene and health-related topics amongst their peers at schools.
Infrastructure and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
To increase schools’ capacities to take on additional students and to reduce the ratio of students per classroom, RET is planning to construct and/or rehabilitate classrooms. Moreover, appropriate WASH facilities are essential for girls’ safe and healthy school participation. RET plans to build restrooms, rehabilitate pipelines, and ensure access to water in schools as of 2023. RET completed its infrastructure needs assessment in the ten targeted schools and conducted several field visits. The needs assessment aimed not only to identify the needs for the construction/rehabilitation of the infrastructures but also to initiate dialogue with stakeholders on this work’s relevancy.
The need for additional classrooms is crucial, with three out of ten schools not having classrooms constructed out of durable materials, while four do not have WASH Facilities. RET intends to support the construction/rehabilitation of 20 classrooms, nine blocks of hygienic, safe, accessible, and gender-separated WASH facilities, nine borehole wells, and fences to increase school safety for students, especially girls.
RET has been distributing and repairing school furniture to improve the students’ learning environment. One hundred eighty benches, 12 easel boards, and 12 desks and chairs for teachers/facilitators in the centers have already been distributed to date in 10 schools hosting the 12 accelerated learning centers.
To ensure maintenance of the school furniture in the upcoming years, 18 young people from the community were selected to undertake training on repairing tables and benches. They will be provided with the necessary tools and materials to conduct the repairs.
As of the school year 2022- 2023, RET is planning to distribute in-kind educational materials such as textbooks, recreational and sports kits, and other school materials, including WASH and hygiene kits and Covid-19 protective equipment to schools, while providing vulnerable girls (6-18 years old, from multiple ethnic groups, including nomadic tribes, with a priority given to girls with disabilities) with individual educational kits including uniforms, backpacks, books, stationery) and solar lamps to be able to study in the evenings. Finally, Two thousand three hundred ninety girls aged 10 to 18 of multiple ethnicities will be identified to be provided with menstrual hygiene kits and will be trained on sexual and reproductive health and menstrual hygiene management. Priority will be given to girls with disabilities and vulnerable girls.
An enabling environment to facilitate access and retention of girls in the targeted schools!
RET is actively working towards the retention of girls in schools. 27 teachers responsible for conducting remedial, refresher, and exam preparation courses have been identified and trainedin the ten targeted schools, including 22 women to take part in training.In addition to the 27 teachers identified, 6 school principals took part in these training sessions to ensure close monitoring of the activities carried out by the teachers at the level of each school. The training aimed to strengthen the capacities of female teachers for better organization of refresher courses on the school program and the teaching approaches used to benefit female students; build the capabilities of female teachers for a better organization of remedial classes and exam preparation sessions to help female students; build the capacities of female teachers for a better assessment of student achievements to detect the shortcomings of girls; build the capabilities of female teachers for better monitoring of girls in the process of improving their weaknesses.
The remedial courses have been organized outside of school hours on a rota of two sessions per week and 3 hours per session. 545 female students benefitted from the remedial classes and exam preparation sessions to date.
Finally, 54 female mentors are identified and assigned to provide individual advice and support to female students. The selection of women mentors was conducted in partnership with the general assemblies with representatives of town halls, school administration, teaching staff, traditional authorities, and members of the school support structures. To better accomplish their missions, the women mentors were trained on multiple topics, including responsibilities as mentors, relationships of trust, communication, strategies for identifying girls’ emotional and academic difficulties, and school follow-up for girls. The training were provided by the focal points of the ministry of education and the regional directorate of national education of Tillabéri.
One hundred sixty-two girls, including 63 in primary and 99 in secondary schools, were identified as vulnerable girls at risk of dropping out and benefitted from the female mentorship program this year. They received counseling, tutoring, and personalized support.
This project proposes complementary interventions that systematically address the multidimensional barriers to girls’ education while simultaneously promoting women’s social and economic empowerment by establishing cooperatives and promoting income-generation activities. Twenty cooperatives have been set up under multiple sectors identified by beneficiaries to date. The women, members of the cooperatives will receive capacity building in various topics to better conduct their activities. To date, 1,000 women have been identified to join the cooperatives.
Working with the communities is the third pillar of this project. RET, in partnership with SongEs, will involve communities through sensitization on the importance of girls’ education and women’s empowerment with a focus on engaging traditional and religious leaders. Thirty-six traditional and religious leaders and seven chiefs of villages from the three communities will be sensitized on the importance of girls’ education and will be involved in preventing early marriage in their communities.
This project is made possible with the generous support of the Republic of Germany and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
 UNICEF, Annual Report Niger,
8 UNFPA/UNICEF, Ending Child Marriage in Niger, 2020, https://www.unicef.org/niger/media/3076/file/Issue%20Brief%20Child%20Marriage%20Niger%202020.pdf