Impact Sudan Initiative
According to UNICEF, 49 percent of girls in Sudan are missing out on secondary education. As of 2019, a total of three million children have been left out of Sudan’s education system, half of them being girls. The enrollment rate for girls in secondary school is lower than that of boys, and there is also a significant gap in literacy between boys and girls.
Zahra is an advocate for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from Sudan who’s passionate about reducing the gender gap in her country. With the help of Peace First, she launched Impact Sudan, an initiative to encourage and empower high school girls to continue their education and inspire them to be future leaders.
“Secondary education for girls is very important and has an impact that can last a lifetime. It’s widely regarded as the minimum level required for securing and maintaining productive employment, which is the main route for escaping poverty and contributing meaningfully to the economy and society. It could eliminate child marriage and substantially reduce early childbearing (having a first child before the age of 18). It can increase women’s decision making abilities and psychological well being. That’s why we have made it our mission to encourage girls to continue their education,” says Zahra. A herculean task in a country and a society that places a very low value on a girl’s education.
Gender stereotypes, social power structures and socially-constructed norms that define the roles that boys/men and girls/women should play, where women/girls are assumed to bear responsibility for raising children, cooking and cleaning, while boys/men are responsible for generating income and more ‘masculine’ household tasks, such as maintaining machinery or washing the car, affect the rights, responsibilities and capabilities of girls, including their access to and treatment in school. Talking to female high school dropouts in her community, Zahra notes that the majority were convinced by their families/communities that a woman’s role is to get married and bear children and that education won’t add any value to a girl’s life. Many regret their decision. “They wished they had someone to guide them to have more self-awareness and to encourage them to continue their education. They now understand the other options they could have in life if they continued their education, the better lives they could have lived, the respect that they could have earned, the careers they could have pursued, and how their socio-economic status would have changed.”
Taking on the role of the guide is exactly what Zahra and the Impact Sudan team set out to do. The goal was not just to educate, advocate and spread awareness, but to also connect young girls with positive female role models to support them, help them build their confidence and inspire them to achieve their ambitions. “Research shows that having visible female role models can significantly improve a girl's outlook and future. As the old saying goes, ‘you cannot be what you cannot see.’ A girl needs to see confidence, leadership and accomplishment in other women in order to envision herself with those qualities and to understand how education can impact her life.”
Zahra and her team started with the ambitious goal of reaching 5,423 girls in 40 local high schools in Khartoum to encourage and empower them to continue their education, and inspire them to be future leaders through a mentoring and capacity building program, that covers topics such as career planning and goal setting, time management, public speaking, and resume writing and interviewing skills. “We launched our project with a series of workshops under the theme "Impact my future" hosted by Khartoum model secondary school for girls. The goal was to inspire the girls and introduce them to different specializations, so we invited a group of female volunteers from different fields, especially those that need more female representation such as STEM, policing and law enforcement and photography. If each one of these young students continued her education and pursued a career in one of these specializations, it would be a great contribution towards closing the gender gap in Sudan by 2030.”
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made the delivery of in person workshops in schools more challenging, which meant Zahra and the Inspire Me team were only able to reach and impact 500 students out of the 5423 they set out to engage. However, the team is not only planning to resume as soon as it’s safe to do so and reach their target, but they’re also planning to extend their work to rural areas outside of Khartoum. The pandemic wasn’t the only challenge the team faced. “We had a little bit of resistance from school management to get permission to conduct our project activities, but we have overcome that, and after sharing the project updates on social media, more schools are contacting us to implement the project in their schools,” notes Zahra.
The initiative experienced explosive growth on social media over the past few months growing from a few hundred to over nine thousand plus followers. It has sought partnerships with Plan International, Atlas for Development and UN Women Sudan to help expand scope and reach. Reflecting on the process, Zahra notes that the most rewarding element so far has been the positive feedback the initiative has received from the students who stated that they felt empowered and very motivated to complete their educational journey and that they now have a better understanding of the value of education and how it can impact their lives.