Girls’ education discussed by key figures at African forum

A World at School, Girls' education, Up for School or #upforschool campaign

A World at School’s Campaigns Director Ben Hewitt files his second report from the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town.

Poverty is Sexist launch at WEF in Cape Town

The World Economic Forum for Africa kicked off with a press launch of a new report called Poverty is Sexist written by the ONE campaign.

The report highlights the challenges and injustices that girls and women in the developing world face across all aspects of life. It includes some sobering numbers – only a little over 20% of poor rural girls in Africa complete primary education and fewer than 10% finish lower secondary school.

The launch of the report was supported by South African musician and activist Judith Sephuma, who has brought together a group of leading artists from across the continent to perform the theme song for the campaign, Strong Girl.  

At the launch Judith said she believes that artists are powerful and people listen to them and therefore they can become a voice against poverty. The artists performed Strong Girl live.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka holds #UpForSchool poster

The issue of girls’ education was discussed later in the day in a meeting between Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women and Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education

Phumzile is a passionate champion for girls’ education. The meeting provided a chance to share the campaign messages from people around the world who have signed the #UpForSchool Petition and Phumzile added her support. Gordon Brown was also presented with a badge as part of the #HeForShe campaign.

UN education envoy Gordon Brown and SHOFCO’s Kennedy Odede

The #UpForSchool campaign was launched in Kenya with a major youth rally in Kibera organised by the SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) team led by Kennedy Odede. He brought the demand for education to the World Economic Forum – the signatures collected in Kenya are some of the sx million signatures from around the world.

Kennedy shared an update on education and highlighted the need for more action to make schools accessible to every child.

Later in the day there was an opportunity to continue discussions about education in Kenya during a meeting with Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom and board member of the UN Global Compact, a UN initiative promoting business engagement in development issues including education and gender equality. There is a big opportunity for business leaders to play a key role in moving forward progress on education for every child.

Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom with #UpForSchool poster

The advances in mobile technology and role of business was a regular theme across a number of sessions at the forum. I was able to catch Peter Moyo of Vodacom sharing his views on the benefits of mobile technology to education across Africa. 

He was on a panel where the discussion highlighted the changes that will be possible as coverage becomes more widespread across the continent and moves from 3G to 4G…and beyond.

It was useful to learn more about a range of new social entrepreneurs who are already using advances in technology and coverage to build new community empowerment models. One is UShahidi – an exciting and innovative organisation.

Desmond Tutu with A World at School’s Ben Hewitt

Before the meetings started on Friday I was able to sneak out of the venue and visit Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Thandi for an early morning service at St George’s Cathedral in downtown Cape Town. The service is open to anyone and there was a number of local people in attendance as well as some visiting tourists who had made the pilgrimage to the cathedral to meet the Archbishop. 

I was struck by the significance of meeting Desmond Tutu in his own cathedral in Cape Town. The cathedral played a vital role in the campaign against apartheid and was the starting point for many iconic marches and campaigns. Today it is still known as a meeting place for activists from all around the world. 

After the service we popped to the café around the corner. Thandi Tutu-Gxashe is doing important work with TutuDesk and is a champion for education.

Thandi Tutu-Gxashe with Ben Hewitt at the cathedral

It was inspiring to hear about their work and find out more about the challenges to providing a quality education in South Africa, especially when schools don’t have enough resources. We were able to share ideas and discuss opportunities for more shared campaigning on education in the coming months.

The events of the World Economic Forum raced on with some of the debates broadcast live on TV. I attended one live televised debate which included Jacob Zuma, South African President, and Gordon Brown discussing how to meet the infrastructure challenge.

Getting every child into school will require the support of a whole mix of networks, governments, organisations and individuals working together and this week the voice of the people who had signed the petition was heard by many of the business and political leaders attending the World Economic Forum.

Read another blog by Ben Hewitt from WEF in South Africa.

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