Crossroads blog | 08 Mar, 2023

When we educate a woman, we educate a society

Education is a Human Right, and Girls’ Clubs in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park have already prevented thousands of early marriages and helped more than 80 girls advance from primary school to high school. Now IUCN Members must ensure that every girl has the same opportunity, so that women can break cycles of poverty and help secure a just and sustainable future for Gorongosa National Park and others like it - writes Larissa Sousa of Gorongosa National Park, an IUCN partner.

My name is Larissa Sousa and I started the Girls’ Clubs in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. With a Management degree, I have always believed in the power of education and what it brought me. And so, I pledged to myself that I was going to help every child that I could to get an education. Being a Mum myself, I can’t help but be there for these girls, just like someone was there for me when my parents couldn’t be.

The Girls’ Club programme is one of the Gorongosa Project’s main educational initiatives. We aim to keep girls in schools and away from early marriages. By implementing after school activities with girls between the ages of 10 and 16, we ensure they have the tools they need to face the world. Unfortunately, for economic and cultural reasons, these teenage girls are at risk of getting sent to be married and then becoming pregnant. This prevents a girl from exploring and fulfilling her full potential. So we talk to them, as well as to their parents, about the importance of getting an education and being able to provide for themselves and others in future.

We started with 17 Girls’ Clubs and now seven years later we have 92, working with 3,680 girls who live near the National Park.

In Africa, we believe that when we educate a woman, we educate a society. Education is also their Human Right. These Girls’ Clubs are meant to be safe havens where we discuss career opportunities. We break barriers and show these girls real-life examples of who they can become by introducing them to role models, such as the female scientists and conservationists that work in Gorongosa National Park with whom they can relate. In this way, we open doors of possibility that were not previously open for them. We started with 17 Girls’ Clubs and now seven years later we have 92, that are working with 3,680 girls who live near the National Park. We can confidently say that we have stopped thousands of early marriages, and have helped more than 80 girls get their high school and technical qualifications.

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Nhambita community Girls Club playing football, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Photo: Gorongosa National Park Archive

We demonstrate that girls can do what boys can do, and the entire community learns about the conservation of nature. This way slowly but surely, we change perceptions.

In addition, we trigger conversations and create change in communities when we stage football championships just for girls. In our area football is typically a sport that only boys can play. Therefore, in this social way, we demonstrate that girls can do what boys can do. Hundreds of people attend these championships and enjoy the fun. This activity challenges the social and cultural norms, where we also have parents - mainly the fathers – who now like to come and watch their daughter play when initially they had not allowed them to. During the matches we include games and quizzes about general knowledge and the National Park. All the girls compete for a prize and the entire community learns lessons about the conservation of nature. This way slowly but surely, we change perceptions, attitudes and beliefs.

Inspired by many great examples such as Girl Rising, the Girls’ Club programme was specifically designed to enhance literacy and numeracy for girls in the Gorongosa National Park Buffer Zone. But they also learn about their sexual reproductive rights, conservation issues, and build life skills that provide them with the tools to handle day-to-day problems. I remember how hard it was in the beginning to convince parents to invest in education when they could not see tangible nor immediate results. The girls were not confident nor did they speak their minds. To provide additional mentorship and support, we paired girls with older women. These women, who are respected in communities, become ‘godmothers’ to the girls and offer personal advice and guidance. Being in the clubs has provided some girls with a support group that has helped them grow their confidence, smile more, work on their body language and self-belief; they see that in our community we can do and be anything.

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Girls on a guided safari with a role model, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Photo: Gorongosa National Park Archive

Realistically, not every girl will become a scientist or conservationist so we also focus on building knowledge, skills and experience in farming, sewing, crafts, entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy. Today, I am so proud to be able to accompany our first Girls’ Clubs members as they visit other clubs to tell their stories and offer inspiration as role models. The whole community is starting to see that this is possible, and we can celebrate this victory together.

IUCN Members must ensure girls can further their education. This way women contribute to sustainable development in communities, securing the long-term future of Gorongosa National Park and others like it.

These are first steps, but we all – every IUCN Member - must make girls’ education a priority. Governments and civil society should ensure the resources are available for girls to further their professional, technical and academic education. This way women can contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable economic development in their communities. Sustainable growth will in turn help with protecting biodiversity and securing the long-term future of Gorongosa National Park – and others like it.

But, most importantly, it will help each and every girl to have what we all expect and deserve as human beings: the chance to enjoy a healthy, happy, safe life; to follow their dreams and fulfil their potential; and make a meaningful contribution to their families and communities and break these cycles of poverty.

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User name: NGOANDE
on Thu, 23 Mar 2023 by NGOANDE (not verified)

Très bien apprécié cette initiative car j'ai aussi mis sur pied un projet exacte dans mon pays

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