HER TURN - It’s Time To Make Refugee Girls’ Education a Priority

A group of Nigerian refugee schoolgirls at Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon. A group of Nigerian refugee schoolgirls at Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon.

Our children are born in a peaceful country, which has a strong government, political stability and sustainable economic growth. All of these allow them to get all their rights as a children, especially getting education, in which the mandatory 12 year education from pre-school to Form Five is free at all government schools.

The following stories cites part of an article wrote by Filippo Grandi, United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, with a hope it can help to strengthened our our awareness - about how important it is for all Malaysians to stay united, working closely together to ensure that our country remains peaceful, as well as maintain it sovereignty and independent.


Access to education is a fundamental human right. It is essential to the acquisition of knowledge and to “the full development of the human personality”, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states. More than that, education makes us more resilient and independent individuals. Yet for millions of women and girls among the world’s ever-growing refugee population, education remains an aspiration, not a reality.

Limited access to schooling perpetuates and magnifies the challenges of life in exile - finding work, staying healthy, holding on to dignity and hope. It also limits the potential of refugee women and girls to rebuild their lives, protect themselves against abuse and take a lead in shaping the lives of their communities.

Without education, refugee women and girls are denied the confidence to speak out - to contribute to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. They are the ones who will help to foster peace and stability.

They are the ones who will blaze trails for others to follow and set examples that future generations will seek to emulate. For the future security of their home countries, it is vital that refugee women and girls are given the keys of education to unlock their potential as leaders of peace.

Enabling refugee girls to get access to quality education requires action right across the board - from national education ministries and teacher training institutions, to communities and classrooms. This will not be easy: forced displacement has accelerated in recent years, straining facilities and infrastructure in countries that host refugees, many of which were already battling to provide adequate services to their own people. That’s why we at UNHCR, the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, are calling for an international effort to turn the tide.

Refugee girls often have fewer opportunities than boys, but UNHCR and its partners have identified ways in which we can widen their access to education. We now need support to implement these strategies globally and redress the imbalance.

Good examples abound, and many countries are making changes to help more girls from both refugee and local communities attend school. Our task is to make sure this happens everywhere, and to help create stronger communities that unite to find solutions to shared challenges. We have found time and time again that measures to support refugee women and girls also have long-term benefits for the communities hosting refugees.

It is time for the international community to recognize the injustice of denying refugee girls and women an education. Please join us in demanding: “It’s her turn”. It’s her turn to be equipped with the confidence of education. If you give her this chance, there is no limit to her potential.


Ensuring that refugee girls are given access to education is crucial for their empowerment and the prosperity and increased resilience of their families and communities. But there are formidable barriers in their path. For refugee children around the world, both boys and girls, the school gates are a great deal harder to prise open than they are for their non-refugee peers.

As highlighted in UNHCR’s latest report on refugee education, only 61 percent of refugee children have access to primary education, compared to an international average of 91 percent. At secondary level, 23 percent of refugee adolescents go to school, compared to 84 percent globally. At tertiary level, while 34 percent of university-age youth are in education, the figure for refugees is only one percent.

All refugees face significant barriers to education, but for the 84 percent of refugees who are hosted in developing regions, the situation is particularly acute, with resources stretched and a chronic shortage of schools and teachers. (UNHCR: Global Trends Report, 2016).

For refugee girls in these regions, it is even tougher. And as they get older, the gender gap keeps growing, as UNHCR statistics show. Data from the top three sub Saharan countries hosting refugees, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, show that there is a greater proportion of refugee boys than refugee girls in school:

Primary education

  • In Uganda, progress has resulted in nine refugee girls for every ten refugee boys enrolled in primary education.
  • In Kenya and Ethiopia, there are only seven refugee girls for every ten refugee boys enrolled in primary education.
  • According to UNESCO amongst local children in these countries there are equal numbers of boys and girls enrolled in primary education.

Secondary education

  • Refugee girls at secondary level are only half as likely to enrol as their male peers.
  • In Uganda, there are five girls for every ten boys enrolled in secondary education.
  • In Kenya and Ethiopia, there are four girls for every ten boys enrolled in secondary education.
  • According to UNESCO, nine girls for every ten boys are enrolled in secondary school amongst the local population.
A Somali refugee girl after taking her secondary school exam in Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya.
A young refugee girl taking her end of term exams at a school in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya.
Asma’a Adnan Saied, 23, Syrian refugee in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.
South Sudanese refugees at school in Nguenyyiel refugee camp, Ethiopia.
Reem Arafat (middle), a Syrian refugee girl at school in Whitehorse, Canada.
Sumaiya Akter, 12, Rohingya refugee in Kutupalong refugee settlement, Bangladesh.
Refugee children from Mali compete to catch their teacher’s attention.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visiting a repaired kindergarten in Luhansk, Ukraine.
Refugee girls from Burundi collect firewood in the rain near Nduta refugee camp, Tanzania.

These disparities emerge even though girls make up half of the school-age refugee population.


A major obstacle to both refugee boys and girls attending school is cost. According to UNHCR field staff, school fees, the price of uniforms, books and other learning materials and transportation are barriers to education for boys and girls alike. Even small costs can seem problematic for people who have suddenly had to abandon their livelihoods and are often denied the right to work.

But refugee girls are often at an even greater disadvantage in terms of “opportunity costs” - losses in terms of income and of domestic duties. (Sperling and Winthrop, 2016). Collecting water or fuel, taking care of younger siblings or older relatives, household chores - these are all tasks that fall heavily on girls, while marrying daughters off removes them as a family “expense”.

These factors are amplified as girls get older - just as they should be preparing to transition to secondary school. If a refugee family has limited resources and must choose which siblings can continue with their education, UNHCR community-based protection staff have noted that boys are often prioritized because they are seen as having greater future earning potential.

The situation is exacerbated because in many developing countries, the resources for secondary education are far less than for primary. Secondary education costs more - it requires more specialized equipment, more sophisticated learning materials and better qualified teachers.

Girls may also have to battle social and cultural conventions and expectations. Some communities believe there is no need to educate girls, especially in places where child marriage and teenage pregnancy are the norm.

Furthermore, if sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence is common in the communities that surround them, it is often found in school as well. Taken to extremes, religious hardliners have threatened and attacked girls, including refugees, who dared to defy them by attending school.

A school is made yet more unwelcoming if there is a lack of access to sanitation, clean water and private toilets. According to the World Bank (Toolkit on Hygiene, Sanitation and Water in Schools, 2005), menstruation leads girls in sub-Saharan Africa to miss four days of school every four weeks, adding up to a loss of 10 to 20 percent of school time.

Without clean water and toilet facilities to wash clothes and uniforms, the provision of menstrual hygiene products, and sensitivity to the subject among both school staff and their classmates, it is easy to see why girls, both refugees and from the host community, would be forced to miss school.

All this creates a self-perpetuating system that works against girls: the fewer girls who are educated, the fewer female teachers there will be who can buck these trends and act as role models.

Conversely, dedicated and inspirational female teachers such as Afghan refugee, Aqeela Asifi, winner of the 2015 Nansen prize - an annual award for outstanding service to the cause of refugees - has transformed the lives of hundreds of Afghan refugee girls with her teaching.

After years of dedication, she was recently able to expand her school in Kot Chandna, a remote village in Pakistan. “My students would always ask for the same thing - to be able to continue their education past the eighth grade,” she said. “Now we can make this dream a reality.”