The role of education for women and girls in conflict and post-conflict countries

June 19 is the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

In the event of war and conflict, women and young girls suffer more compared to their male counterparts. According to UNHCR, women comprise 49% of refugees worldwide, mainly due to conflicts, and they often face more hardship than men in similar situations due to their gender.

In the Bentiu Protection of Civilians site (POC) in Unity State, Nyapuor, 9, carries an empty food tin to sit on at school in the POC in Unity State South Sudan. She has to bring this tin as there are no seats for her at the school. CREDIT: © UNICEF/UN030156/Rich

“I came with my mother to the POC because of the war. I was very frightened by the war I saw so many people wounded and men shooting guns, it was very bad. I feel safe here in the POC and want to keep coming to school. I am very happy here my favourite subject at school is math. I would like to have more text books to read that would make me even happier.”

This is the eighth blog post in a series of collaborations between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

The effects of war and conflict afflict every member of the society. In a typical conflict, family and community structures are often dismantled, traditional beliefs and practices lack meaning and human rights are grossly violated.

Women and young girls suffer disproportionately during and after conflicts

In the event of war and conflict, women and young girls suffer more compared to their male counterparts. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), women comprise 49%  of refugees worldwide, mainly due to conflicts, and they often face more hardship than men in similar situations due to their gender.

In addition to being disconnected from their families, women and girls are at of risk of sexual violence. Cases of girls being abducted, raped and forced into marriages are often registered. A clear example is the April 2014 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. This incidence received worldwide condemnation of the outlawed militant Islamist group, known as Boko Haram.

In a 2014 Human Rights Watch report, the girls confessed to having been raped, being forced to marry the militants and even performing hard labor to satisfy the sect members. The report also highlights that at least 500 women and girls have been seized by the group since 2009 when the insurgency began in West Africa.

In East Africa, a 2016 study conducted by the UN Security Council in Rwanda portrays conflicts as a driver of child marriage cases reported in the country. The study found that before the 1994 genocide, the average age for marriage for a girl was between 20 and 25 years. In the refugee camps during and after the genocide, the average age of marriage dropped to 15 years.

How the aftermath of wars and conflicts affect women and adolescent girls’ primary needs

The situation worsens for women and girls in the aftermath of wars and conflicts. Besides undergoing psychological distress, they have to bear the responsibilities of caring for their dependents including the children conceived out of sexual violence. These circumstances restrict girls and women from accessing primary needs such as healthcare, education and self-development opportunities. They are also vulnerable to discrimination and isolation by peers and the society as a whole.

Without requisite education and training, they fail to earn a livelihood and contribute to the labor market.

Many students are left unable to cope with the formal system, lag behind and illiteracy rates increase. In response, a multisectoral approach supports and empowers this vulnerable group to be integrated back into society and further reclaim their place.

Why education and training play a key role in empowering women and girls in post-conflict countries

It has been argued that Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) can have a tremendous positive impact in countries that have faced conflict. TVET provision in post-conflict countries has included non-formal training and skills development, along with the necessary elements of life skills and literacy.

Often times, the gender component of TVET in post-conflict countries has not been a major area of focus despite the vulnerabilities and marginalization of women and girls.A special focus should be placed on activities which compensate for gender disparities (i.e. human rights, education, resources, and empowerment); an economic approach which addresses the economic and governance programs (i.e. leadership, labor, and talent); and gender-oriented activities to change inequalities and conflict-affected societies into peaceful societies of respect and equality.

Some best practices in empowering women and girls in post-conflict situations include a case study conducted by the Forum  for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) dubbed Economic Empowerment of Girls in Post-Conflict Situations through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). From 2009 to 2014, the case study successfully reached hundreds of girls and women in the following four targeted countries: Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Somalia.

According to the study, empowerment of women as well as equipping them with new vocational skills brought both intrinsic and extrinsic values, increased capacity and self-worth for the beneficiaries. The once disadvantaged and despondent girls and women were found to feel capable of serving society and contributing to their socio-economic emancipation as well as participating effectively in their countries’ development.

Across the globe there has been a growing interest to include women in conflict resolution and peace talks, with the number or representation growing from 1% in 1999 to 9% in 2011 as reflected in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security adopted on 31st October 2000.

Nevertheless, the percentage of representation is still wanting. Being among the most affected group in times of conflicts, women would be better placed to propose solutions for the victims of violence.


As we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict today, a lot of emphasis needs to be placed on investing in programs that uplift the lives of the victims of conflicts and violence.

While TVET has worked well in selected conflict countries, there is need to replicate such good practices in other countries experiencing fragility. Moreover, women and girl’s access to and participation in peacebuilding and reintegration processes will go a long way in enhancing the economic and social status of this marginalized group.