Gender desks on the frontline of girls’ education in Nigeria

26 February 2024



In Nigeria, where 50% of girls are not attending school at the basic education level, major planning efforts are underway to promote gender equality in and through education. On the frontline are dedicated gender desks within the State education Ministries, helping to make schools safer and to keep marginalized students learning.

“Gender desks are very important because gender is a fundamental component of our society,” says Augustina Apakasa, the Assistant Director for the Gender Branch in the Federal Ministry of Education of Nigeria. “They make sure that gender is mainstreamed in all aspects of education.”

The gender desks operate across Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, undertaking activities such as advocacy and awareness campaigns for gender equality and inclusion in society to formally reporting cases of school-related sexual abuse and violence. They also ensure that budgets are allocated to gender-specific activities.

Training in gender-responsive educational planning enlightened Ministry of Education staff on the importance of having gender desks nationwide.

Developing the capacities of Nigeria’s gender desks – which include one or two dedicated gender officers – has been at the heart of the Ministry’s active participation in the Gender at the Centre Initiative (GCI), a Multi-stakeholder Alliance led by IIEP-UNESCO and the UN Girls’ Education Initiative since 2020. Over 1,000 education officials and Civil Society actors in Africa, including Nigeria, have completed training in gender-responsive educational planning and related areas.

Before this, Apakasa says there was a lack of understanding regarding the potential impact of having an active gender desk in all ministry offices. However, after a training course in 2022, permanent secretaries from six states strengthened the gender desk in their Ministry. “The Gender at the Centre Initiative has really helped us,” Apakasa says.

Before the training, they didn't know the importance of having a gender desk officer. But they were trained on the need for them to have the gender desks in their various ministries. It was very important and necessary.
- Augustina Apakasa

Through the programme, participants honed their leadership skills and learned about new tools and approaches to become change agents for gender equality within their ministries. They also questioned their own gender biases, and a second workshop facilitated three States to develop action plans, based on the implementation of the revised National Policy on Gender, to tackle inequalities head-on. Today, this has paid off with the appointment of focal points in the various gender desks nationwide.

A third workshop for teams of Nigerian educational officials from six geographical zones will also take place in April 2024, to build on this progress and focus on mainstreaming gender equality in the work of State Ministries of Education.

“We need to educate our girls”

The gender desks – as well as gender-responsive educational planning – are a critical piece in solving Nigeria’s massive out-of-school population. Only nine percent of the poorest girls are in secondary school compared to 81% of the richest, according to UNICEF Nigeria. Gender – alongside factors like poverty, insecurity, and geography – significantly contributes to this crisis.

Recognizing this challenge, the government has made girls’ education a top priority, and its latest Roadmap for the Education Sector for 2024-2027 aims to bring 15 million out-of-school children back to school in the next four years. The plan also contains a chapter dedicated to girls’ education and this year there is a dedicated budget for gender activities, for the first time. However, Apakasa notes that implementation and continued investment in gender programmes are key to making a difference.

“In Nigeria, making the policy is not our problem, but sometimes to implement that policy becomes one,” she says.

Apakasa is optimistic about the success of this new roadmap. From the start, the Ministry of Education has prioritized participation among a broad range of stakeholders – even girls in the affected communities –to ensure smooth implementation across Nigeria. 

What’s new with the Gender at the Centre Initiative?

More than 40 education professionals from 16 anglophone African countries joined the second English edition of the Short Course on Gender-responsive Education Planning, delivered by IIEP between September and December 2023. During this three-month journey, they explored topics such as intersectional inequalities in education, gender-responsive budgeting, and gender mainstreaming in education sector analyses and planning.

30 Members of the Community of Practice in Education and Gender (CoP) from across francophone Africa also joined a one-week workshop in Dakar in October 2023, hosted by IIEP’s regional office for Africa as part of a six-month intensive coaching programme. The workshop focused on data, covering aspects from collection and analysis to dissemination and use for gender-transformative education. Members shared best practices from their countries and strengthened the movement initiated by GCI towards gender-transformative education.