The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) is a pan-African non-governmental organisation founded in 1992 to promote girls’ and women’s education in sub-Saharan Africa in line with the Millennium Goal of Education for All. With headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, FAWE has a network of national chapters in 32 countries.
eLA: What would you say are the main factors that prevent females from participating in education? Based upon your experience, can you explain why this exclusion occurs?
Faith Macharia: The factors affecting the situation of girls and women, which include those affecting their ability to participate in education, are many and various. Among them are poverty, cultural beliefs and practises such as early marriage, female circumcision, HIV/AIDS, fathers who are not willing to pay for their daughters’ education as they feel it not important, child labour, gender-based violence, and sexual abuse, to name a but few.
Exclusion from formal education is also a result of extreme poverty, especially among African women, most of who have no source of income and are wholly dependent on their husbands. There is also a lot of polygamy and extramarital affairs, practised by men with impunity. Women are easily sent away from their homes by their husbands with no support for their children, and to add to this, they cannot afford to seek legal redress. Girls’ education is not given priority due to the cultural belief that girls are meant for marriage, to bring dowry to the home.
eLA: Which of the factors can FAWE address with its work?
FM: FAWE has been working and continues to work in the following areas. We source financial support and then provide needy girls with tuition fees to help them access and complete their education cycle. We then work in close partnership with the government and in particular with the Kenyan Ministry of Education to influence policies that will, in turn, address the challenges facing girls’ and women’s education. And last but not least, we create demonstrative interventions in that the organisation identifies needy areas and begins to address them at the micro-level. Once these interventions have proven successful, FAWE works with the Ministry of Education to scale this up nationally. An example of success is the Centres of Excellence, which attempt to ensure that all our schools are gender responsive and that teachers are in a position to use gender-responsive pedagogy in their teaching, etc.
eLA: Involving women in school activities has a positive impact on female education, as well as involving the community in policy development, particularly where culturally sensitive issues are concerned. How is FAWE working on that?
FM: The involvement of women in FAWE’s work is at two levels. To begin with, FAWE is a membership organisation with members and branches countrywide. These members run programmes at the national, district, or grassroots level that are geared toward supporting girls and at assisting women acquire education for development.
At another level, women collaborate in FAWE’s activities by working with the girls as mentors in areas such as HIV/AIDS education, providing them with information on harmful cultural practises like female genital mutilation, and explaining the sexual maturation process and drug-related issues. They also serve as role modals for the girls. We encourage FAWE members to write proposals for funding at the grassroots level based on their specific needs.
eLA: How would you define gender responsive education?
FM: Gender responsive education is education that addresses all the gender concerns of boys and girls, men and women. As such, the teaching and learning methodologies must use gender-responsive pedagogy. In addition, the teaching and learning materials must be gender responsive in the use of language and illustrations. Another key area is ensuring that the school environment is gender responsive. This touches on the provision of appropriate sanitary facilities and that gender-appropriate infrastructure is put in place for all the learners irrespective of their gender.
eLA: How can eLearning support women’s education?
FM: I’d say that eLearning can support the education of women and girls by providing an alternative in terms of access. As girls and women have been marginalised for very long, this avenue will ensure another means by which they can access education, especially those who are not able to join formal learning environments. eLearning is also in a position to help women and girls access additional information outside formal school learning that will influence their lives, such as information related to their health, social well-being, empowerment and management of finances. All these will go a long way in improving their lives and those of their families.
eLA: You are coordinator of the FAWE Kenya Chapter. How are the national chapters linked with each other and how do you create synergies?
FM: All 33 chapters operate within the FAWE mandate, goals and strategic objectives, which guide the operations of all the chapters. This has ensured that they can share experiences and learn from one another and from the various challenges met during implementation. All the chapters share a common vision and mission. They are all membership organizations. The chapters carry out inter-chapter visits; they host certain activities together to synergise and learn from each other’s experiences. The programme officers based at the regional office visit the chapters with a view toward addressing any challenges and ensuring that activities carried out fall within the overall FAWE goal and mandate.
eLA: How do you cooperate with governments? Is there sufficient commitment?
FM: FAWE Kenya has a long working relationship with the government, mainly through working with the Ministry of Education. The partnership between FAWE Kenya and the Ministry is anchored on the premise that the Ministry, through its reform processes, is extending a welcome hand to strategic partnerships that will enhance its mandate to provide quality education and training to all girls and boys, men and women inclusively.
In this wide partnership, therefore, FAWE Kenya brings in one key strategic strength in mainstreaming gender in Education training and research. This is realized through our core functions, namely:
- Influencing education policies for gender responsiveness
- Undertaking demonstrative interventions with communities to demonstrate best practices in gender and education
- Advocacy to correct the imbalances of gender in education across the wide educational spectrum
- Working with Ministry of Education, development partners and other stakeholders to scale up the best practices in gender issues activities and education.
In addition, FAWE Kenya has, over the years, undertaken demonstrative interventions with communities to illustrate best practices in gender and education, FAWE has supported this process through the setting up of Centers of Excellence in Athwana, Meru District and A.I.C Kajiado.
eLA: Dear Faith, many thanks for your time.
Visit the FAWE website at www.fawe.org