March 04, 2021

From crisis to recovery: girls' education is the focus of Theirworld's International Women's Day event

Girls at a school in Lebanon - there are fears the pandemic may result in 11 million girls globally not returning to education

Photo credit: Theirworld / Hussein Baydoun

The online event featured the role of learning for girls, our work with partners in Greece and Lebanon, our Global Youth Ambassadors - and a very special award.

Change-makers, activists, business leaders and education experts from around the world came together today to discuss how we can break down the barriers to girls’ education.

Unlocking learning for girls in the wake of the pandemic was the theme of Theirworld’s seventh International Women’s Day event, which was held online for the first time.

Girls’ enrolment in school had been improving, albeit slowly, before the Covid-19 crisis. But the pandemic forced 1.5 billion children, including 767 million girls, out of education at the peak of school closures. Without urgent action, there are fears that 11 million girls may never return to the classroom.

Opening the event, Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown spoke about the organisation's focus on addressing the global education crisis. She added: "We believe that our shared expertise, our networks and our commitment mean that we can make a difference to children and young people missing out on school, on skills, on a brighter future.

"Our focus is on how we unlock big change. So all the projects we support are so important and necessary and we must all keep going. But together we also have to figure out the bigger impact - unlocking political will, large-scale financing, getting those who hold the bigger levers of change to consider the future of young people and the challenges they face."

Sarah talked about new Theirworld research that reveals Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on girls in Britain. Many are taking on additional household chores such as cooking and cleaning, leaving them less time to do their schoolwork.

Video: why girls' education is vital

The event kicked off with a new animated Theirworld video about girls' education, which stresses its importance not only for the girl but for her community and country.

Video: our Global Youth Ambassadors

Sarah also introduced another film that focused on the work of Theirworld's Global Youth Ambassadors, our network of nearly 1,000 young activists from countries around the world. This featured Bushra Farooq from India, Simbiat Oladoja from Nigeria, Iswat Badmus from Nigeria and Agrani Handunge from Sri Lanka.

Panel event: Theirworld's partners

A panel discussion titled Unlocking Girls' Education in Greece and Lebanon featured the directors of two NGOs which Theirworld has partnered with on innovative projects. 

It was moderated by Maysa Jalbout, who is a non-resident fellow at the Centre for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. She wrote Theirworld’s report Finding Solutions to Greece’s Refugee Education Crisis.

One panellist was Zarlasht Halaimzai, Director and Co-Founder of the Refugee Trauma Initiative. With Theirworld’s support, RTI has provided training and emotional support to thousands of young people, including refugees, in Greece.  Learn more about our work with RTI.

The other was Hiba Zakka al Jamal, Director of the SKILD Center (Smart Kids with Individual Learning Difficulties) in Lebanon. Hiba runs SKILD’s early childhood education project. Supported by Theirworld, it has helped children with special educational needs continue their learning during the pandemic. Learn more about our work with SKILD.

Sarah Brown and Maysa Jalbout

Maysa explained about the situation on the Greek island of Lesvos, where almost 13,000 refugees - 4,000 of them children - were left homeless when a fire destroyed the infamous Moria camp last year.

Zarlasht said: “When the fire happened, there was a huge failure in providing emergency care. Children are experiencing extreme trauma. There is a mental health emergency. It is so acute that many of the children don’t even play any more.”

Zarlasht became a refugee from her home country Afghanistan at the age of 11. So she knows how important it is to work with both the refugee and local communities.

“Refugee women and girls face huge adversities," she said. "RTI employs people from the refugee community. The partnership with Theirworld supported this approach. We worked with our local partners to support our early childhood intervention - which is co-designed by refugees and early childhood experts - to deal with trauma and toxic stress in children.

“We found young leaders, trained them to become early childhood and youth facilitators. We distributed care packs to families with young children, with materials to help children continue learning.”

Hiba Zakka al Jamal and Zarlasht Halaimzai

Hiba spoke about the impact of Covid-19, the tragic Beirut blast last year and the economic crisis on refugee children and their families in Lebanon .

“We work with children with special educational needs. With all the stresses, the families are extremely tired. The burden is big,” she said.

Hib explained about a SKILD project - supported by Theirworld - to make a series of educational films to provide families and teachers with creative ways to help children who are at home and unable to access schools or specialists.  

“They were accessed by thousands and we got great feedback. There is a big need for these resources,” she added. “When we put our hands together we can make a bigger difference.”

Unlock Big Change Award

During the event, Theirworld’s Unlock Big Change Award 2021 was given to Theo Sowa, former CEO of the African Women's Development Fund, for her extraordinary efforts to transform and improve the lives of girls and women. 

This section featured two video tributes to Theo - from renowned activists Graça Machel and Melinda Gates. Theo said: “I feel hugely honoured. I truly believe in the work that Theirworld is doing - and celebrating the idea of women who unlock big change."

Read more about the award.

Podcast: youth activism

A special girls' education edition of the Better Angels podcast series was also released today to mark our International Women's Day event. It is hosted by Jamira Burley, Theirworld's Head of Youth Engagement, who talks to Global Youth Ambassadors Simbiat Oladoja from Nigeria and Bushra Farooq from India. 

You can listen to it here.

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