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Advocating for girls’ right to education in Rwanda

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The sound of a megaphone cuts through the everyday noises of a busy neighbourhood in Ruhengeri, Rwanda. Customers and merchants in the market pause what they’re doing and listen to the voice of the smiling volunteer.

“The Rwandan culture has set the types of activities that are meant for girls and those that are meant for boys. We expect girls to do many of the household chores which means they don’t have as much time as boys to study or play. We must work together to give girls equal opportunities and teach our children to be open to chores regardless of their gender.”

In Rwanda, societal views of gender roles often limit girls’ access to resources and opportunities, and affect their ability to attend and excel at school. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing barriers to education for girls, putting them at risk of losing their chance at an education forever. By sharing messages about inclusivity and gender equality, volunteers Emiline and Jean are helping to shift attitudes and ensure girls can go back to school and follow their dreams.

Emiline and Jean are part of a group of more than 400 Right To Play-trained volunteers from UMUHUZA, a local partner organization, who led an awareness campaign in late 2020 that spanned 200 villages in Rwanda. Usually, community members would be invited to gather at local schools to participate in awareness-building activities with youth leaders from Right To Play’s school leadership clubs. But COVID-19 restrictions forced them to change their approach. So the volunteers took to the streets, using megaphones to broadcast messages about gender equality, the importance of ensuring girls get access to quality education, equitable sharing household chores between girls and boys, teenage pregnancy, and fighting against gender-based violence. During the three-week campaign they spoke to close to 20,000 parents, caregivers and community members.

“We have been encouraging parents to treat their children equally. It is important to let both girls and boys participate in household chores and give them all enough time to play and complete their studies,” Emiline explains.

“We have been encouraging parents to treat their children equally and give them all enough time to play and complete their studies.” - Emiline, Right To Play-trained UMUHUZA Volunteer

In 2018, a gender analysis study conducted by Right To Play explored some of the ways attitudes toward gender in Rwanda affect girls’ opportunities to learn, study, and play. The purpose of the study was to understand the barriers that impact girls’ and boys’ equal access to quality education and identify possible strategies to overcome them. It found that at school girls were expected to sweep the classroom while boys were encouraged to play outside. Boys were more likely to be tasked with leading groups, while girls were asked to take notes. Boys were encouraged to engage in competition, while girls were expected to stay calm, to be shy and not to talk much in public.

These disparities meant that boys often outperformed girls in subjects like English oral reading fluency and numeracy. Right To Play’s awareness campaigns are challenging these gender norms by encouraging families to shift their view of the importance of girls’ education.

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Emiline and Jean, Right To Play-trained volunteers from local partner organization UMUHUZA, speak with a group of villagers about the importance of gender equality.

This message about treating children equally had a deep impact on Jeanine, a mother who heard the volunteers’ broadcast on her way home from the market. She stopped to listen, then invited Emiline and Jean to come to her house to speak with her husband. After their conversation, Jeanine and her husband are determined to supporting their daughters to pursue their studies.

“Boys were raised to think that they cannot do the household chores that girls do. But after hearing this message, we understand how much more work we expected our daughters to complete. From now on we are going to make sure our sons and daughters are participating equally in chores, so they have equal time to play and study,” says Jeanine.

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Jeanine and her husband's attitudes towards gender roles changed because of the campaign.

The gender awareness campaign is an initiative conducted as part of the Gender Responsive Education and Transformation (GREAT) program, which is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Active in Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda since 2018, the GREAT program uses Right To Play's play-based learning approach to remove barriers to education, especially for girls, and to build teacher capacity to improve learning outcomes.

Through the GREAT program, teachers and coaches trained in Right To Play’s playful learning methodology provide mentorship to youth, building their understanding of their rights, promoting positive masculinity and gender equality, and supporting them to achieve academic success. Right To Play will also continue to engage volunteers and youth leaders in campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of child labor, early marriage, teenage pregnancies, and gender-based violence in various communities across Rwanda throughout the program duration.