According to the 2020 UNDP Human Development Report, Niger is the least developed country globally. The volatile security situation, migration flows, high population growth, low literacy and education levels, coupled with climate change and natural disasters, decrease in agricultural production, and gender inequalities, are hampering the country’s long-term human development. Niger has one of the fastest-growing and youngest populations in the world. Over 58% of Nigeriens are under 18. 84% of the population lives in rural areas. The extreme poverty rate remained high at 42.9% in 2020, affecting more than 10 million people. 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. Only 19% of girls in rural areas complete primary education, and this number drops to a worrying 8% among the poorest wealth quintile. The low female education rates directly translate to long-term gender inequality and systematic social and economic disempowerment of women.
There are a complex range of demand-side and supply-side barriers that prevent the fulfillment of girls’ rights to education:
On the demand side, harmful social beliefs, norms, and practices include: a lack of recognition of the importance of girls’ education, conservative/traditional women’s roles associated with religious believes (including the spread of jihadism); heavy burden of domestic labor on girls; high poverty levels; 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. 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 age 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.
On the supply side, 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 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 insufficient education materials are available to create a quality learning environment.
Women are disproportionately affected by poverty in Niger; they lack vocational/professional training, entrepreneurship skills, and access to credit/loans from banks and microfinance services; and females have limited access to asset ownership. Limited mobility due to insecurity and conservative social norms makes it difficult for women to expand their social networks required to market and sell products in far-away markets. As a result, even if mothers have understood the importance of girls’ education, they lack the means to invest in their daughters’ futures. To respond to those needs, RET aims to increase girls’ access and retention in quality primary and secondary education and to promote women’s social and economic empowerment.