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FEATURE STORY April 20, 2018

Unlocking Women’s Learning and Learning Potential


A girl is less likely to complete her secondary education in rural Zambia than a boy. 

Photo: Jean Madela

Investing in the human capital of women is good for society. Educated women are more likely to work in the formal sector, marry later, have fewer children, and look after them well. A project in rural Zambia is supporting girls through secondary school and training working-age women in life skills and business acumen.

Eunice Sichone is among the 600 girls who returned to secondary school in Gwembe district in Zambia’s Southern Province in 2017. She is happy to be back in class. Sichone wants to become a nurse and is motivated to work hard to help her family out of poverty.

Sichone and the others are benefiting from the Keeping Girls in School bursary, a key component of the Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihoods (GEWEL) project. It aims to help some 14,000 adolescent girls complete their secondary education and another 75,000 women living in rural areas of Zambia take up economically productive activities.

"The bursary is very helpful for us struggling parents because it helps pay the school’s fees. Without this help, my daughter would have not managed to stay in school."
Father of 14-year-old Eunice Sichone, Gwembe District

With $65 million in IDA financing from the World Bank, GEWEL is supporting Zambian government efforts to achieve inclusive growth by addressing the dual challenges of poverty and gender inequality. Compared to males, Zambian females are more likely to leave school during adolescence and are more likely to farm at subsistence levels—both strongly correlated with low earnings.

Changing this reality would have a transformative impact on not only girls and women but also on their families, and on Zambia’s efforts to build human capital and boost long-term economic growth.

Encouraging continued education

For Sichone’s father, the support is well-timed: he had no means to pay school tuition after losing his business. “The bursary is very helpful for us struggling parents because it helps us pay the school’s fees. Without this help my daughter would have not managed to stay in school,” he says. His wife recently left him, adding to his sorrows.

The cost of secondary education is prohibitive for Zambia’s poorest families, hindering attendance. Primary education is tuition-free, but secondary school requires not only passing a national exam but paying for school as well.

Between 2002 and 2010, most of the girls who dropped out of school said it was for lack of financial support, according to Zambia’s Living Condition Monitoring Survey (2010).

Minister of Gender, Victoria Kalima, points to compelling evidence on the benefits of staying in school longer. “Research shows that better educated women tend to be healthier, to participate more in the formal labor market, earn more, give birth to fewer children, marry at a later age, and provide better health care and education to their own children,” she says.

From subsistence to sustainable livelihoods

GEWEL also empowers women, aged 19 to 64 and mostly mothers, with basic business training and life skills that can help them turn piecemeal work into viable microenterprises and reduce their poverty levels.

The Supporting Women’s Livelihoods program combines “life skills and simple business skills training, productivity grants, access to savings, and mentoring and peer support,” says Minister of Community Development and Social Services, Emmerine Kabanshi.

In the first year of implementation, GEWEL reached over 21,000 extremely poor girls and women. By 2020, the project aims to scale up to almost 100,000 girls and women in half of the districts nationwide.