Why refugee girls miss secondary school

Shelby Carvalho

Despite global and regional commitments to ensure that all children have access to education, refugee children are being left behind. Secondary school enrollment for refugees lags behind children in host communities in almost all major host countries, with gaps often larger for girls.

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, finds that refugee girls remain half as likely to enroll in secondary school as their male counterparts. In Ethiopia and Kenya, refugee girls are only 40% more likely than boys to enroll in secondary school. Barriers to girls’ education in low- and middle-income countries are well documented, but less is known about how these barriers vary and can multiply in humanitarian contexts.

In a new study, to be published in the Journal on Education in Emergencies, I examine the family and community factors that shape the secondary school participation of refugee and host community students in Ethiopia, one of the largest host country for refugees in Africa.

Using two major household surveys – the World Bank’s Skills Profile Survey (which covered over 27,000 people) and the UNICEF Self-Reliance Program Survey (with over 17,000 people) – I have found that while there are significant and distinct concerns for refugee girls, there are also many ways in which they face the same challenges as girls in the communities around them.

Refugee and host community girls face many common challenges

As the majority of the more than 800,000 refugees hosted in Ethiopia live in camps located in remote parts of the country, host communities therefore often have limited access to sufficient public services, including schools. I compare refugees to their immediately surrounding host communities to examine how barriers vary in narrowly defined geographic locations.

The refugee and host community parents in my study had similar educational backgrounds, and the results suggest that first-generation learner status is correlated with lower rates of secondary school attendance for both groups. . Moreover, in most cases, refugee and host community parents expressed similar levels of satisfaction with the quality of schools and teachers available in their areas, as well as similar opinions about the value of schooling. education for girls. This is consistent with recent research in Ethiopia that finds that being a first-generation learner is negatively correlated with the educational outcomes of domestic students.

Globally, adolescent girls are at the highest risk of violence and exploitation of all age groups. The risks of gender-based violence (GBV) and early or forced marriage for adolescent girls are heightened in humanitarian settings and can negatively impact education. In Ethiopia, refugee women reported slightly higher rates of GBV than women in host communities in all regions except Benishangul-Gumuz and Somali. In Somalia, more than 50% of women from both groups reported having been victims of GBV. Overall, the relatively high prevalence of GBV experienced by both groups suggests that this is a common challenge that should be addressed in both refugee and host communities, perhaps by through common interventions.

Refugee girls face additional disadvantages related to domestic responsibilities and security

Refugee girls’ participation in secondary school is disproportionately limited by domestic responsibilities and community safety concerns. Refugee girls responsible for collecting water were about 10 percentage points less likely to be in school. And the longer it took them to fetch water, the less likely they were to be enrolled in school. Every additional five minutes it took to reach a water source was associated with a 2 percentage point decrease in the likelihood of being enrolled in school.

In Ethiopia, as in other host countries in the region, including Kenya, secondary schools are located within host communities, forcing refugee learners to travel outside the camps – and sometimes for very long distances – to attend secondary school. This can lead to much longer travel times and greater exposure to host communities than is necessary to attend primary schools located in the camps. Refugee girls in households who reported feeling safe walking in the community were 6 to 10 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in secondary school. Although perceived safety and travel times to secondary schools are important for all students, and especially for girls, they have the potential to have a disproportionate impact on refugee girls in particular.

Policy responses may need to vary within host countries depending on local conditions and refugee-host dynamics

In large, diverse host countries – with large and diverse refugee populations – such as Ethiopia (but also Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and others), supporting refugees may require different solutions depending on locations based on refugee-host dynamics. For example, host community attitudes towards refugees were most negative in Benishangul-Gumuz (Table 2, columns 1 and 2). Refugees from Benishangul-Gumuz are less likely to share an ethnicity or language with the surrounding host community compared to those from other regions, which may contribute to negative feelings towards refugees as a more distinct outgroup . Conversely, we find more positive perceptions of refugees among host respondents in Somalia, where refugees are likely to share a common ethnic identity and language with hosts.

From the perspective of refugees, relations with host communities were the worst in Gambella and the best in Somalia (column 4). Gambella also has the largest secondary school participation gaps between refugees and host communities with a difference of about 49 percentage points between the two, as well as the largest gender gaps in the host community. host with a difference of 20 percentage points between boys and girls in the host community. Gambella also has more frequent instances of violence in areas surrounding refugee camps, including violence targeting schools, which can contribute both to negative perceptions of host relationships and could limit participation in the school for refugee girls and host communities due to shared security concerns. .

Take away food

  1. Refugee girls are disproportionately disadvantaged in access to secondary school compared to host community boys and girls, even when I compare refugee camps to their immediately surrounding host communities.

  2. Differences in secondary school enrollment between refugee and host community girls are unlikely to be due to variations in parental attitudes towards the value of girls’ education, perceptions of the quality of education available or differences in parental education. On average, first-generation learners are less likely to enroll in secondary school, whether they are refugees or not. Interventions identifying and supporting first-generation learners could jointly target refugees and host communities.

  3. Exposure to gender-based violence is common among refugee and host community women, and it can have a negative impact on the school participation of adolescent girls in general. Interventions targeting GBV could productively target refugees and host communities together.

  4. Community safety and the quality of relationships between refugees and their host communities vary from place to place, and safety is a particular concern for secondary school enrollment for refugee girls. Girls are more likely to be in school in places where households report feeling safe walking around the community during the day. Helping refugee girls access secondary schools outside of camps will require ensuring that school access routes and conditions in surrounding areas are safe for girls, and may require additional interventions or different from place to place depending on the local dynamics of refugee-hosts and distances from schools. When conditions vary, the pursuit of national policies that do not take into account local variations can put refugee girls at risk.

As many low- and middle-income host countries move towards more inclusive models of refugee education, it is essential to identify barriers that may differentially limit the inclusion of refugee girls and thus justify unique policy solutions. or targeted, as well as those that could be jointly addressed to benefit both refugees and hosts.

*Note: This research was conducted and reflects findings prior to the recent increase in conflict in Ethiopia. The big lessons are still relevant in Ethiopia and many other low- and middle-income host countries. However, location-specific statistics may vary depending on heightened conflict, violence and uncertainty, especially in the Tigray region where recent attacks have taken place. *refugee tragically targeted*camps.*

Thanks to Dave Evans for his helpful comments and suggestions.