Investing in innovations to realise women’s rights
5 March 2020

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women, which set an agenda for women’s empowerment. While we can celebrate the achievements and successes of women, we are far from equal in closing the gender divide. There is a wide gap in political participation, women still lack economic opportunities, as well as access to better health and opportunities for education.

This year’s theme encourages us to renew our commitment to promoting women’s rights for a more gender equal world. COL promotes learning for sustainable development through the use of distance learning and technologies, and increasing educational attainment for women and girls is a key priority.

According to a Cambridge University report, 137 million children and adolescents in the Commonwealth are not in primary or secondary school, and 67 million of them are girls and young women. How can we ensure that all girls get 12 years of quality education?

COL believes that if the girl cannot go to school, the school can come to the girl. To increase access to secondary education, COL promotes the use of open schooling. Based on a flexible approach, it allows learners to study at their own pace, place and time.

In many countries, open schools are particularly attractive for girls. The Namibian College of Open Learning enrolls 65% girls because of flexibility and lower costs. Nigeria is in the process of establishing open schooling with implications for hundreds of thousands of girls.

Khadija, a young girl from Bangladesh told COL, ‘My father believes that only boys should have an education. He wanted me to get married, but I did not want to destroy my life. Right now, I am continuing my studies at the Open School because I firmly believe that education can change my social position.” Khadija’s father was ready to accept this arrangement where she could study from home.

But to get more girls into school, we need to empower the mothers first. Samina, a mother from Pakistan, recounts how she was forced to labour as a child rather than go to school but now that she understands the benefits of education through community advocacy, she is empowered to take a stand and send her daughter to school.

Open schooling costs about one fifth compared to conventional secondary education. This model works and can be deployed successfully to increase access, improve quality and cut the costs of secondary education. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us resolve to invest in innovations and alternative approaches such as open schools to truly realise the rights of our women and girls.

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