From Crisis to Empowerment: Promising Approaches & Policy Directions for Girls’ Education in Conflict-affected Contexts

October 11, 2017

Submitted by Emilie Rees-Smith – Gender, Education and Conflict Specialist at the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative. This blog post highlights the launch of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative policy note ‘Addressing Threats to Girls Education in Conflict-affected Contexts’ on the occasion of International Day of the Girl Child 2017.

‘Equality between women and men is inextricably linked to peace and security’ 

 - Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, High Level Advisory Group for the Study on the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325.

Armed conflict has a devastating effect on the availability, access and quality of education for all children. Girls in particular tend to face greater threats to accessing safe and quality education due to  various forms of discrimination.

The costs of sending a child to school poses a significant barrier for poor families in conflict-affected contexts. Adolescent girls are often particularly disadvantaged, given that their education is not generally seen as an investment, as in the case of boys. The situation is worsened by targeted attacks, displacement and issues such as early marriage, insecurity and threats of violence in school that become heightened during conflict.

‘EmPOWER Girls’ is the theme marking this year’s International Day of the Girl Child – drawing attention to the challenges girls are addressing before, during and after crises. Education is a critical entry point to ensuring the rights, empowerment and participation of all girls from response to recovery. At the same time, data shows that girls’ education outcomes remain the weakest in conflict-affected contexts. These disparities deny girls the opportunity to gain the skills and competencies required for productive economic participation and for civic and political engagement to contribute to a county’s recovery, economic growth and maintenance of peace and stability.

We know that when education is available equitably, is of good quality, relevant, conflict and gender–sensitive it can be transformative and contribute to peace, but what are the practical ways to deliver this? Understanding the impact of conflict on girls and women – while reflecting the needs, experiences and enlisting the support of men and boys – is essential in order to inform the development of gender-sensitive policies and programmes that level the playing field in girls’ education.

The UN Girls’ Education Initiative has been working with Overseas Development Initiative (ODI) on a research paper and policy note titled ‘Addressing Threats to Girls Education in Conflict-affected Contexts’ - aimed at identifying promising approaches to address the threats faced by girls to education in conflict-affected environments.

Five key strategies have emerged from this work:

 1.     Multi-pronged approaches must be adopted to address the multiple risks and disadvantages faced by girls.

The individual strategies identified below are most effective when implemented in parallel, across different sectors and actors. Strategies showing particular promise seek to combine approaches that work with communities to influence discriminatory norms, while improving the quality, flexibility and availability of schools as well as taking targeted steps to reduce barriers such as safety, security and financial constraints.

 2.     Community engagement is critical for the delivery of gender-sensitive and contextually relevant education.

Working with communities to challenge discriminatory beliefs and practices against girls’ education has led to increased enrolment and attendance. Such approaches also promote ownership and sustainability.

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 3.     Financial and in-kind support help families to send girls to school.

Demand for schooling can be increased through economic support interventions such as scholarships and cash transfers. These strategies are proving particularly significant in conflict-affected situations where poverty, insecurity and lack of access to education become intensified.

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 4.     Alternative education mechanisms are crucial where existing school systems do not provide the flexibility needed to support learners.

Such initiatives are improving access to learning opportunities for excluded children in conflict-affected contexts, especially girls. Such models are able to adapt and respond through different modes of teaching in response to the needs of the students and the crisis environment.

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 5.     Targeted strategies to address school-related gender-based violence must be integrated into education programmes.

Strengthening preventive and protective mechanisms within schools and temporary learning spaces is key to creating a safe and enabling learning environment for all girls, young women, boys and young men.


- Focus investment on interventions that promote multi-sectoral collaboration to improve access and quality of education for girls alongside efforts to tackle discriminatory cultural and social attitudes and practices.

- Build on proven interventions to upscale combinations of promising strategies working explicitly and intentionally at the intersection between gender, education and conflict.

- Invest in research, monitoring and evaluation of education programmes in conflict-affected contexts with a gender lens.

- Strengthen knowledge management systems to facilitate wide dissemination of proven interventions on girls’ education in conflict-affected contexts. 

- Strengthen collaboration across gender, education and conflict actors globally to promote coordinated, collective advocacy and action to address girls’ education in conflict-affected contexts.

The SDGs represent a global commitment to addressing the threats girls face in conflict-affected situations and the opportunity to build evidence and upscale what works in this domain. Greater investment in promising approaches, research and multi-sectoral collaboration in girls’ education in conflict-affected contexts will ensure that all of the world’s girls are achieving and learning, that gender equality goals are achieved and that these efforts contribute to maintaining peace and stability.

This blog is based on an Evidence Review conducted by Overseas Development Initiative ‘Addressing Threats to Girls Education in Conflict-affected Contexts’ -  Policy Note can be accessed here