SOAS University of London

SOAS students discuss girls' education at Wilton Park conference

31 July 2018

Earlier this month, four students from the Centre of International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) at SOAS University of London had the opportunity to participate in a conference at Wilton Park, (Sussex, England) to discusss on how diplomacy can be used to mobilise support for girls’ education in conjunction with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Department for International Development (DFID).

Kamilia Amdouni, Lindsay Bownik, Musa Bwanali and Alexandra MacAulay Abdelwahab, postgraduate students with backgrounds in technology, development work and journalism, represented SOAS as rapporteurs. They contributed to the conference’s final report, which is currently under review.  

Among the key issues that emerged from discussions, participants heard the need to consider the wider social context that impacts a girl’s access to education: rural marginalisation; sanitary facilities at school; gender discrimination; female teaching; affordability; counselling and support for girls and their families; championing role models and mentoring; as well as the fundamental need to engage all stakeholders in order to address challenges that girls face in the pursuit of quality education. Highlights also included the necessary coordination among the various stakeholders and to enforce monitoring that considers both qualitative and quantitative factors and long-term commitments.

Kamilia Amdouni said: “As a postgraduate student in the CISD diplomacy program, this event gave me a unique opportunity to shape my views of diplomacy. I learned more about the influential role of non-state actors as the CSOs and the private sector; realised the necessity of a mutual understanding of all those involved, including non-state actors’ comprehension of what diplomatic resources and mechanisms are at play and can be activated when campaigning for global causes as girls’ education; and fundamentally I grasped the power of various fields of diplomacy particularly public and digital diplomacy to raise awareness".

Musa Bwanali said: "Attending this conference was an empowering opportunity I feel fortunate to have been able to attend during my time in CISD. I have been a beneficiary of a girls’ education programme and I know how life-changing the opportunity to pursue my education has been, not just for myself but my family and community. Sitting at the table with policy makers, education practitioners and business people who are all driven to see more girls receive quality education, I realised that there is a need for more partnerships among the different actors as it is impossible to address the challenges that girls face from one perspective. Technology and the private sector hold great potential in the global campaign and need to be encouraged to commit to it. Using diplomacy to elicit political commitment from different governments will also make a difference in prioritising the safety and empowerment of the girl child, especially in developing countries.”

Alexandra MacAulay Abdelwahab said: "One of the stand-out moments for me was hearing the personal story of my CISD classmate Musa Bwanali, who grew up in Zimbabwe and faced dropping out of school at 16, because her family could not afford to pay the examination fees. Musa explained how important it is to challenge ideas of women as being defined by the fact that they are married and have children, rather than by their other accomplishments. I also got a strong appreciation for the myriad ways that people are trying to improve girls education, whether through new technology, teacher training, community projects, and national or international policy changes. It made me realise that there are many ways that I could get involved myself and opened up some new ideas for me in the future.”

Lindsay Bownik said: "Achieving quality education for all girls provides benefits extending to every element of life in every corner of the world. Prioritising girls’ education and placing it on the agenda of every government is essential for success not only in education, but also in the economic, health, trade, and - last but not least - technology sector. In an ever more globalised world, technology has proven to connect the world and bring everyone closer together, and as such, it should be utilized as a useful tool in classrooms worldwide. Mobilising girls education through diplomacy and partnerships is paramount to improving quality of life and empowering women and girls’ around the globe. A successful campaign for 12 years of quality education for all girls begins by working collaboratively together to make our vision come to life.”

The conference brought together 63 participants from a range of private and public sector stakeholders as well as civil society organisations. These stakeholders included the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DFID), United Nations programs, including UNICEF, and the UN Girls’ Education Initiative; from the civil society, international organizations like the Malala Fund, Plan International, Save the Children and Aga Khan Foundation.