Bridge Uganda is empowering a new generation of confident, successful girls. If you’re an 11-year-old girl living in one of the world’s most marginalised communities, you face less access to education than your brother, a greater likelihood of economic and social marginalisation, the prospect of forced marriage, early pregnancy, and increased maternal mortality. Being a young girl in many communities can be the most difficult hand to be dealt.
63 million girls between ages 6-15 are out of school and 16 million girls between ages 6-11 never enter one
Only 34% of girls from the poorest households, living in the poorest countries complete primary school
In Uganda, 700,000 primary school aged girls have never attended school with 23% of those who do attend school dropping out early due to teenage pregnancy.
Educated girls are healthier, have the skills to make choices about their own future, and can lift themselves, their community, and even their county out of poverty. For instance, a percentage point increase in girls’ education boosts GDP by 0.3 percentage points and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percentage points. Again, one extra year of education for girls increases their wages by between 10-20%. By educating girls we change the future of entire communities as women reinvest 90% of their income in their families, as opposed to 30-40% for men.
In 2018, boys outperformed girls nationally in the Ugandan primary school leaving exam (PLE), but at Bridge schools, girls outperformed boys. In fact, Bridge girls performed better than boys, both within Bridge and nationally. Nationally, boys are 9% more likely than girls to be in Division 1 & 2 (top scores). However, at Bridge, girls are 5% more likely than boys to be in Division 1 & 2. In Uganda’s 2017 national exit exam (PLE), 95% of Bridge girls were placed in Division 1 & 2 with only 62% of girls nationally achieving this status. Female pupils at Bridge Uganda were almost 2.5 times more likely to achieve Division 1 or Division 2 than girls across eastern Uganda.
Mainstreaming women empowerment principles
Uganda’s COVID-19 shutdown of schools was the longest in the world, lasting just under two years, from 18 March 2020 to 10 January 2022, severely disrupting the education of over 10 million children. Despite the odds against them, there are girls who have defied the norms and are now celebrated by everybody. Bridge schools Uganda created a remote learning programme called Bridge@home for pupils which included WhatsApp quizzes, lesson guides, self-study packs and digital story packs which kept all our pupils, girls inclusive, busy, and engaged at home. When the 2020 PLE results were released, Bridge girls were among the top celebrated candidates in the country. Batamuriza Judith, a 15-year-old girl from Nansana municipality emerged at the top, scoring a division 1 with an aggregate of 8 points. She credited her stellar performance to the use of the Bridge@home learning materials.
The United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles is a good way to show our focus. Formulated by the UN Global Compact and UN Women, the “Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) are a set of Principles offering guidance to organisations on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community.” The UN WEPs “are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that organisations have a stake in, and a responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.” This should be automatically embedded into all organisations and societal cultures but until it is, the principles offer a good guide.
Promoting gender equality in education
- Bridge Uganda commissions all of its artwork and creative storeys in text-books and work-books to ensure equal visibility of male and female characters, and specifically represent female characters in powerful, unconventional roles
- Teachers are trained to call on both boys and girls in the classroom. As fewer girls than boys usually tend to volunteer in class, teachers are trained to practise more cold calling to ensure equal participation.
- Professional development and classroom management techniques focus on encouraging girls to be leaders in and out of the classroom
- Bridge Uganda ensures gender equality outside the classroom too, by encouraging girls to practice leadership skills through participation in various co-curricular activities like drama, chess, the arts, and taekwondo.
- Girls are particularly encouraged to engage in sports like athletics, ball games and taekwondo which typically have less female participation
Gender equality in schools
- Female teachers, school leaders, and Area Supervisors provide role models within the classroom and community (over 60% of our teachers are women)
- A strict policy against the use of corporal punishment —meaning girls become more confident, expressive, and engaged in class.
- Girls are given school leadership roles through appointments of Head Girls and Prefects.
- Girls can wear dresses, skirts or trousers depending on school activities.
- All schools have well-maintained single-sex sanitation facilities
- Local partnerships with organisations teaching girls about sanitation and sexual health
- Regular child safeguarding training for teachers and school leaders.
Equality of educational opportunity and accountability
- Through its innovative wireless technology, Bridge Uganda engages in systematic gender-responsive monitoring to ensure effective evaluation of the progress of each girl child across indicators like attendance and academic performance
- Attendance is carefully monitored to ensure girls can not drop out of the system unnoticed.
- Parent-teacher associations meetings parents form a network of empowered partners—seeking accountability for their girls’ education.