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With Her: breaking barriers to education for girls in South Sudan

Samuel Komakech

Community Mobilisation Manager

On International Day of the Girl, find out how a radio programme helped a schoolgirl in South Sudan avoid early marriage and return to school by changing the attitude of her grandfather.

The ongoing conflict in South Sudan has increased dangers for girls attending school in recent years and social norms play a significant role in the prevalence for boys over girls to attend (and remain) in education. Girls are usually expected to be responsible for the household chores, which affects their time for studying when they are at school, and early marriage is commonplace.

Mary was 16 when she dropped out of school to get married.

Mary’s grandfather, Giban Koka, is 80 years old, an elder and chief of his community. After listening to radio programme Our School in a group in Kenyangoyo village, South Sudan, Giban took action to stop his granddaughter’s planned early marriage and put her back in school.

"Girls do drop out from schools for earlier marriage, but after I listened to the good advice from the radio and listener club meetings, I am now trying my best to educate our girls," he said.

Giban told us the programme inspired him to make sure all the girls in his community go to school - equally with boys - and are protected whilst they are there. And his granddaughter became a role model in the community, demonstrating that girls can go back to school and succeed.

South Sudan has the highest levels of out of school children in the world, with around 2.4 million children missing out on an education. Traditional attitudes in the country mean that girls are more likely than boys to not receive an education – and in some parts of the country over 75% of primary aged girls are not in school.

For the last six years, BBC Media Action has produced Our School, a 15-minute magazine-style radio programme targeted at girls, their parents, community leaders and teachers. The programme aims to build awareness about the many barriers that girls face in achieving a proper education and encourage change. Our School episodes aired on radio and I’ve visited and set up events and listener clubs for the programme in villages – like the one Giban attended - across the country.

Influencing the influencers

Despite the ongoing challenges with conflict in South Sudan, our survey of adults across the country showed that Our School is having a strong, positive impact on girls’ education. The programme reached nearly a third of the adult population (31%) – an estimated 1.8 million people. Advanced data analysis showed that audiences were more knowledgeable about the education system; discussed education more with friends, family and community members; and took a more active interest in their child’s education by, for instance, talking to them about the importance of education and helping them with their homework.

Although more than 1.5 million people left South Sudan to flee violence and seek refuge in neighbouring countries between July 2016 and August 2018, Our School has a loyal and engaged audience, with 93% of listeners tuning into every other episode in 2018.

However, deep-seated attitudes around prioritising boys’ education over girls’ in times of economic hardship remain, with 42% of respondents agreeing that ‘if there is a limited amount of money it should be spent on boys first’.

“Previously, our people used not to send their daughters to school, they only send boys, but when I started attending the listening club meetings with the community, I learnt that I have to send all the children to school equally.” said Giban.

Mary and her grandfather are exactly the type of people we wanted to reach through the Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) project and highlight why it’s so important to use media to engage in dialogue with community groups. I’m pleased that Our School and our community mobilisation efforts have improved household and community awareness and helped increase support for girls.

Reaching millions, transforming lives

We know that radio has great power to help us reach girls like Mary – and the millions like her – who are struggling to receive an education. When combined with community mobilisation efforts, media and communication can help change deeply entrenched attitudes of parents and communities which hold girls back – just like we’ve seen with Mary’s grandfather.

Now 17 years-old, Mary says "I am hoping to finish my secondary education. If I pass well, I would like to go to university. I am hoping to become a teacher in future so that I will be able to teach other children."

Girls are our future leaders and participate in building our nation. Today, on International Day of the Girl, I’m pleased that the Girls’ Education South Sudan project continues to stand with, and support, role models such as Mary – empowering girls across the country and helping them build a better future.

As Mary adds, "If I stay here with my grandfather, nothing will stop me in meeting my hopes."


Samuel Komakech
Community Mobilisation Manager
BBC Media Action in South Sudan

Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) is a DFID-funded programme that aims to transform the lives of a generation of children in South Sudan – especially girls – through education. For more information see here or read our research about the project.