Angola is charting a path toward prosperity. There is no investment that will accelerate this journey more than the one the country is making towards girls’ empowerment and learning.
Whether we seek to achieve equality, reduce poverty, or otherwise increase the welfare of Angolans, the starting point is the same: empower, and invest in, girls. Keeping girls in school and making sure they learn will probably do more for Angola’s future than any other public investment.
First, investing in girls’ education is the most direct road to correcting gender inequalities in Angola, whether in the labor market, in education, or elsewhere in society. Angolan women are more likely to be neither working nor enrolled in school. They are less likely to be in higher-paying jobs in industry or services. Ensuring that girls stay in school longer, graduate in greater numbers from secondary school, and obtain relevant skills for the labor market will help bridge these challenges of gender inequality. These benefits extend well beyond the girls themselves. Girls with more years of schooling are less likely to have adverse outcomes when it comes to childbirth, are less likely to have children that are stunted, and are more likely to have children who, in turn, acquire more education. That is, the investment in education pays off across generations.
At the societal level, and in economic terms, having girls stay in school longer will help trigger a “demographic dividend”, which occurs when the productivity gains from having a growing labor market are timed with a falling dependency ratio, that is, fewer children and elderly to care for per worker – and when economic growth consistently outpaces population growth. Our colleagues in the Ministry of Planning (“MEP”), together with the United Nations Fund for Population (“UNFPA”), estimated that, for Angola, this ‘dividend’ could represent a GDP per capita of more than $24,000 for Angolans by 2054, as compared to a business-as-usual scenario of just $6,300 if no action is taken. This four-fold increase in the average income -- this historic opportunity for reducing poverty -- is predicated on ensuring that a greater number of girls stay in school longer and learn more.
Extending the education of girls is a strong policy instrument for achieving Angola’s commitment to ending child marriage, enshrined in both the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. In addition to being an issue of human rights, this is especially important since Angola ranks third worldwide in adolescent pregnancies. Keeping girls in school is not enough: we need to improve their access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception.
Of course, it’s not just about girls. We need to work with boys too – to make sure they have the knowledge to take informed decisions and have access to the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services that will enable them to lead responsible lives. The Girls’ Empowerment and Learning for All Project that we are launching today seeks to do just that, working in partnership with non-governmental organizations to implement the government’s adolescent health strategy.
For girls to stay in school longer and learn more, many actions are necessary. Perhaps most importantly, to truly reap all the benefits of education, schools in Angola – as in all countries – must be made safer. Girls and boys are too often victims of violence. This is simply unacceptable to us all – schools must be beacons of safety and peace. Safer schools require adequate policies and actions to be introduced. The Ministry of Education have outlined steps under this project to strengthen protections for children in schools, including awareness raising activities for children to know their rights, grievance reporting mechanisms at the school level to better monitor and detect cases of sexual abuse, and support to teachers to ensure they comply with codes of good conduct.
Finally, we need to directly support girls and their families financially to better incentivize their attendance. The scholarship program being announced today is a first step in this direction, complementing the country’s Kwenda program. The government of Angola will invest $110 million dollars over the next four years, benefiting 900,000 young Angolans. These types of interventions have already proven to not only increase attendance, but even learning.
This support to girls is not just the government’s project. It is the work of all Angolans: civil society organizations, communities, parents, teachers, schools and development partners. An entire generation of girls will raise their aspirations and reap the opportunities before them.
Investing in girls’ empowerment is not only the quickest route to improving the welfare of girls and women, but is the country’s best chance at achieving long-lasting poverty reduction, and prosperity for future generations, starting with today’s children.