One of the prominent prerequisites to promote gender equality and empowerment is access to inclusive and quality education for girls and women. Educating girls and women provide them with life-changing opportunities whether it is social, economic, or political. Ultimately, enabling them to demonstrate their meaningful presence in decision-making, generate income to support themselves and their families, and take leadership roles in the home, community, and country.
Madhesh Pradesh is one of the regions with the highest rates of illiteracy and early marriages in Nepal (NDHS 2016, CBS 2011, MICS 2014). The majority of the girls are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty, harmful gender, and socio-cultural norms, and practices creating barriers to education. As they are hardly provided with opportunities and access to education, they acquire zero bargaining power in the house. They have null or low literacy and numeracy skills and lack information about their rights, equality, and life skills. Therefore, an educational institution free of harmful gender/social norms is required to empower girls and boys. It will contribute to reducing the school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) and harmful practices, including child/early marriage.
Girls’ education improves economies and reduces inequality. It provides opportunities for all individuals to fulfill their potential including girls, women, boys, men and everyone. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry at a young age and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families. Therefore, investing in girls’ education transforms communities, schools, municipalities and the nation as a whole.
With the aim to promote inclusive education including specific needs of women and girls, life skill, livelihood, reducing harmful social norms and adverse impacts of climate change and disaster, a network of volunteers called Girls and Inclusive Education Network (GIEN) is formed. GIEN is formed under the technical leadership of Girls Education Challenge (GEC) program funded by FCDO, and implemented by People in Need (PIN) Nepal, VSO and Street Child, in consultation with Center for Education and Human Resource Development (CEHRD). The GIEN is formed and operationalized at community, municipality, province and federal levels. The network consists of adolescent girls, youth and adult representatives from a range of stakeholders at the school, municipality, provincial, and federal levels. The major aim of GIEN network is to work together with the government and communities to promote girls’ education and inclusive learning, girls’ right to protection and safeguarding, reducing gender-based violence to in and out of school girls, life skills and livelihood through creation of enabling environments at family, communities, and schools.
GIEN provides marginalized girls with localized support through a peer mentoring model. Since the volunteers often share the same background and have lived experiences, they can offer both support and motivation to the marginalized girls. It is envisioned to be developed as a women-led network so has the unique potential to become a catalyst within the education landscape by activating school-based Girls and Inclusive Education Networks (GIEN) in schools and different layers of government. The network is designed to align closely with Government of Nepal’s (GoN) policies and priorities outlined in the 10 years School Education Sector Plan (2021-2030), especially regarding the creation of gender networks ensuring Government of Nepal’s ownership in sustaining these endeavors.
It aims to align non-governmental organizations’ efforts with the government initiatives to reduce girls’ educational barriers and continue their inclusive learning in a sustained way. This network at school/community level will strengthen the complaint response mechanism that will support the school governance, reducing SRGBV, and resulting in establishing a safe, inclusive, and enabling environment at schools for girls’ transition to and retention in secondary education. GIEN not only encompasses the girls’ access to schools, but it will also ensure to remove gender stereotypes in the learning materials, girls feeling safe in the schools, getting adequate support in the coursework, and making career-plans they choose to pursue.
The network at local level will advocate on promotion of girls’ education and inclusive education, lobby at local level to prioritize voices of marginalized girls and women in policy formation and reflect in government activities with allocation of resources.
People in Need (PIN) Nepal have taken the initiation to form Girls and Inclusive Education Network (GIEN) in working schools and local levels of Bara and Rautahat districts of Madhesh Province under the UK Aid funded Aarambha-Leave No Girl Behind (LNGB) project. The project aims to improve the life chances of out-of-school, adolescent girls aged between 10-19 years, through literacy, numeracy, life skills, and community mobilization for social transformation.
During the project period, PIN with other GEC partners and its implementing local partners, has been facilitating the process to establish and strengthen the GIEN at schools, local levels and other government structures. The provincial level GIEN has been formed in Madhesh Pradesh, with leadership of Provincial Government and CEHRD, in which PIN is represented as invitee technical member. Moreover, in the provincial level, by the initiative from CEHRD, the name has been finalized to Girls and Inclusive Education Network (GIEN) as of which the project is replicating similar schools/community and local level.
The Gender focal person of Shree Devi Secondary School, Pinki Kumari Patel shares, “Our school had developed a 10 months action plan which includes support on school enrolment campaign, enroll out-of-school girls into formal education, strengthen complaint response mechanism to create safe and enabling environment at schools. Now, girls reach out to me if they have any problems. Recently some girls came to me for a sanitary pad, they are the same girls who used to go home and be absent in schools during their menstruation period.”
As of today, People in Need has formed 24 GIEN at school and community levels in Bara and Rautahat districts. The members of the GIEN were oriented on girl’s education, Complaint Response Mechanism (CRM) at School and capacitated for effective mobilization. In the leadership of GIEN, gender transformative workshops were completed in 24 schools covering 4200 adolescent girls and boys.
The Education Officer of Baragadhi Rural Municipality (Member Secretary of GIEN) Jalmati Chaudhary shares that the complaint boxes in schools must be placed where students can easily access it without any fear of being judged or seen, mostly avoiding the area near the teachers’ room or the principal’s office. She further adds, “But we observed that no one focuses on such things, and are still unaware about the proper use of complaint boxes, documentation of cases and its prioritization. Therefore, to strengthen the complaint response mechanism in schools and Palikas, GIEN has a significant role and Palika should integrate it in its planning.”
Federal network has been established and a provincial network has also been established in Madhesh, Lumbini, Gandaki and Sudur Paschim provinces. GIEN supporting agencies are also actively engaged in 129 municipalities. PIN is planning to scale up GIEN initiatives to other districts and provinces of Nepal, with formation, operationalization and capacity strengthening of network volunteers.