What is an emergency skirt and why does it improve girls' reading?

by 05th Sep 2018
Boys and girls at school in Zimbabwe learning how to sew reusable sanitary pads. Boys and girls at school in Zimbabwe learning how to sew reusable sanitary pads.

In Zimbabwe, mothers and school management worked to improve girls’ academic achievement through the Improving Girls’ Access through Transforming Education programme (IGATE). When you ask girls what they liked best about the initiative, many of them will tell you about the emergency skirt.

The emergency skirt is something that the mother’s groups and school committees stocked at schools along with pads and buckets with soap so that if a girl started her period at school she could stay and feel clean instead of going home. It’s simple, but it makes a world of difference. This is one of a number of activities that are designed to build a girl’s confidence and her ability to excel. Here is what else the IGATE programme did.

What did we accomplish?

  • Girls could read better: Girls who were part of the Power Within clubs in schools had an average of 27% better fluency in reading than girls who were not a part of the programme.
  • VSLAs improved reading: Girls whose families were part of VSLAs had 3% higher literacy than the control group. 67% of families in VSLAs invested some of that money into their girls’ education.
  • Girls got better at math: Girls who had mothers in the mothers’ groups and girls who were part of the clubs both scored higher in math than girls who didn't.
  • Girls were more likely to stay in school: In 2016, a combination of crises in Zimbabwe meant a lot of families pulled their kids out of school. Only 1% of girls who were part of the girls’ clubs left school, when 5% of girls in the control group had to leave school. On average, girls who were part of clubs were 4% more likely to be enrolled in school.
  • Girls support each other: Girls in the clubs say that they use the books provided to “teach others [in the club] who don’t know how to read”.
  • Girls got more confident: One 12-year old girl said the result of the project was, “I know that I am also important.” Another girl said the best part of being in the club “is that you learn to build self-confidence and to be resourceful because you are taught to stand for your rights.”
  • Men are changing their attitudes: Men are more likely to support girls in school. In one case, men sewed re-useable pads to stock in schools, so girls don't have to be worried about their periods making them miss class.
  • Violence went down: Many communities said they were better able to prevent violence and respond to cases of sexual harassment. In one example, a mother said, “cases are decreasing because of the male champions and mothers group interventions as well as the use of suggestion boxes at schools. It is assisting the police in having decreased numbers of such incidents.”

How did we get there?

  • Give girls safe space: The Power Within girls’ clubs were an important way for girls to feel empowered and supported. Even having a club at school meant that attendance for that school went up 4% for all the girls, even if they weren’t a part of it.
  • Teach girls about their rights: Girls noted that their favorite parts of the clubs were learning about their rights and their bodies. Lessons about how to manage menstruation and the ability to get resources when they needed help were especially important.
  • Get parents — especially mothers — engaged: The programme used CARE’s mother’s groups model to teach women about how the importance of education and how to support their daughters and girls in their communities. 92% of schools in the programme had active mother’s groups.
  • Build partnerships with governments and schools: Local governments and committees contributed their own time and money to support the project, and 67% of communities were able to successfully advocate for more support for girls’ education.
  • Give girls bicycles: The other most successful intervention was World Bicycle Relief’s giving bicycles to girls so it was easier and safer for them to get to school.
  • Combine methods: The final evaluation points to the links between different components as part of what encouraged change.

IGATE was funded by DFID from 2013-2017 and reached more than 109,000 people, including 48,773 girls. CARE was a sub-grantee to World Vision with a $3.9 million budget. CARE was responsible for the Power Within clubs, VSLAs, and the mothers’ group models that all showed impacts on reading skills, maths skills, and attendance.

Want to learn more?

Read the final evaluation.

Emily Janoch

Emily Janoch is Senior Technical Advisor on Knowledge Management for the CARE USA Food and Nutrition Security team focusing on ways to better learn from and share practical experience on eradicating poverty through empowering women and girls. She focuses on learning from programming and using that learning to improve impact.

With four years of on-the-ground experience in West Africa, 10 years of development experience, and academic publications on community engagement and the human element in food security in Africa, Emily is especially interested in community-led development. She has experience in food security, nutrition, health, governance, and gender programming, and has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago, and a Masters' in Public Policy in International and Global Affairs from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Email: ejanoch@care.org