Esther first got her period at age 13. Following village customs, the older women advised her to spend the next seven days indoors, never leaving her home. Unfortunately, at the time, Esther was only one day from writing the national primary school examinations—which would determine whether she could attend secondary school or not.

In Esther’s village, PWS&D is supporting the Every Girl Empowered project, which aims to educate and spread awareness on sexual reproductive health, gender-based violence and the importance of staying in school. The project works with local community members to set up youth groups and help facilitate the spread of knowledge on these essential topics.

Caroline and the village chief successfully intervened when village traditions prevented Esther from writing a critical school exam.

So, when a community member named Caroline, who is also a member of a mother group and a parenting facilitator, learnt about Esther’s situation, she attempted to speak with Esther’s parents to convince them to let her leave home isolation in order to write the exam. However, her parents refused and cited the village traditions as to why Esther had to remain separated.

Disappointed, Caroline reported the incident to the senior village chief. The chief, who had been a regular attendee of the project’s quarterly meetings on child protection by-laws, and review meetings where people agreed that harmful cultural practices could lead to high school drop-out and child marriages, was furious about the development and demanded that Esther’s parents let her return to school and write her examinations.

The chief was successful in convincing her parents, and Esther wrote her examinations and was selected to study at Makhosikazi Community Day Secondary school, where she is now a student.

“If not for Caroline and the chief, I would still be in primary school or have dropped out because I would feel bad to learn with those who were younger than me,” shared Esther.

Today, Esther has high hopes that she’ll be able to continue attending school to become a nurse.

The Importance of Education

Education helps pave the way for a child’s success in life. In particular, it enables girls to navigate the changing world with social-emotional and life skills while providing stability, opportunities, self-confidence and knowledge.

Both individuals and countries benefit from girls’ education. Better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labour market and earn higher incomes.

Culture and tradition, among other factors, can prevent girls from accessing education. But, as Esther’s story illustrates, the Every Girl Empowered project is playing a crucial role in combatting cultural factors that limit girls’ access to school. In addition, the project raises awareness among leaders and parents about the benefits of girls pursuing their education and making fruitful contributions to their communities.