This week we smashed through our target of reaching 200,000 individual girls with cash transfers, delivering on the UK Government’s commitment to ‘leave no one behind’, and to support gender equality in the education system.
Since 2014, Girls’ Education South Sudan has paid more than half a million cash transfers to over 215,000 individual girls to support them enrolling, attending and achieving in upper primary and secondary school, with a final 40,000 payments to be made in the next month.
South Sudan has some of the worst educational indicators in the world, particularly for girls. Very few girls who begin primary education continue to secondary school; in 2016, 128,000 girls started primary school, but only 2,700 completed secondary school. War and economic collapse have compounded pre-existing barriers of poverty and unequal access to education, for both boys and girls, which are most acute for girls.
There are many barriers preventing girls from going to school in South Sudan, but GESS research shows that the financial barriers are the greatest, and that apparent social barriers, like early marriage, often have a financial basis – in the case of early marriage, girls are seen as a source of wealth through a dowry. The cash transfers help to remove this barrier by targeting girls in upper primary and secondary schools – those most at risk of dropping out.
An independent analysis by Lee Crawfurd, an academic at the Center for Global Development & University of Sussex used the unique real-time national dataset of school enrolment and attendance in South Sudan, www.sssams.org, developed with GESS’ support, to estimate the impact of GESS cash transfers over the last four years. It found that: “cash transfers make schools more likely to remain open, increase their enrolment numbers, and increase attendance rates, despite the prevalence of substantial ongoing levels of violence and conflict”. This is all the more remarkable given that cash transfers have been just £18-£28 (different amounts in different years) per year.
Devisa, 16, a student at Liberty Primary School in the Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site, told us more girls are enrolling thanks to the cash transfer. Last year she encouraged girls who had dropped out to come back to school, since they could also receive the cash transfers the following year. She said that girls who previously did not want to come to school, or whose parents did not allow them to, are now interested and regularly attending.
Ongoing qualitative research carried out by GESS highlights that the majority of girls make their own choices on how to spend the money, and spend their money mostly on things that directly enable education. Last year, Devisa decided how to spend the cash transfer money together her with her mother. She went to the market and bought scholastic materials, including textbooks and pens. These items have helped her to do revision at home; after school she compares the notes she has taken with what is in the textbook.
Devisa mentioned that forced marriage is one of the biggest barriers girls face in accessing education. Sometimes a girl’s dowry may be her family’s only source of income. Another challenge is that of menstruation. During her period, she says a girl might spend several days at home if she can’t afford sanitary materials. The cash transfers are easing such financial hardships felt by South Sudanese families throughout this difficult time in the world’s youngest nation.
Devisa is an advocate of girls’ education’s benefits: “It starts from the family. Then the children will be more happy and healthy, then the entire country will also be happy because educating a girl is like you’re educating the whole nation.”
The fruits of girls’ education and the impact of UK Aid’s investment in Girls’ Education South Sudan programme are extensive:South Sudan’s 2017 school enrolment stands at 1.5 million pupils, 44.4% of them girls, both national records, achieved in spite of mass displacement caused by the ongoing conflict.
For more information on GESS cash transfers, click here.