Empowering women and girls

Bridge empowers women and builds confident, successful girls

If you’re an 11-year-old girl living in the world’s most marginalised communities, you face less access to education than your brother, a greater likelihood of economic and social marginalisation, the prospect of forced marriage, early pregnancy, and increased maternal mortality. Being a young girl in many communities can be the most difficult hand to be dealt.

  • Never enrolled:
    • 62 million girls between ages 6-15 are out of school and 16 million girls between ages 6-11 never enter one (Source: UNESCO).
    • In Nigeria, almost two-thirds of women in the North-West and North-East regions have no formal education (Source: British Council).
  • Incomplete schooling:
    • Only 34% of girls in the poorest households living in the poorest countries complete primary school (Source: World Bank).
    • In Moroto district in Northern Uganda, only about 6.4% of girls complete primary school (Source: VSO).
  • Lower Achievement:
    • In Liberia, a girl is more likely to be married by 18 than to know how to read and 63% of girls between the ages of 15-24 are illiterate (Source: Huru International)

Because of these dire statistics, Bridge has taken into account women and girls in every aspect of our education approach. This has allowed us to change the futures of girls in underserved communities across Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, India and beyond. In educating girls, we change the future of entire communities as women reinvest 90% of their income in their families, as opposed to 30-40% for men.

Also, educated girls and women are healthier, have the skills to make choices about their own future, and can lift themselves, their communities and their countries out of poverty. For instance, a percentage point increase in girls education boosts GDP by 0.3 percentage points and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percentage points (Source: UNICEF). Again, one extra year of education for girls increases their wages by 10-20% (Source: CGD).

Here are some of the ways we focus on women and girls in and out of the classroom:

  • Affordable fees:
    • Bridge’s affordable fees mean that parents don’t have to choose which child to send to school and are less likely to prioritise a boy’s education over a girl’s.
  • Gender-sensitive instruction:
    • Bridge commissions all artwork and creative stories in Bridge textbooks and workbooks to ensure equal visibility of male and female characters, and specifically represent female characters in powerful, unconventional roles.
    • Teachers are trained to call on both boys and girls in the classroom. As fewer girls than boys usually tend to volunteer in class, teachers are trained to practice more cold calling to ensure equal participation. Bridge Teacher Julianne Kimani tells more here
    • Teacher training and classroom management techniques focus on encouraging girls to be leaders in and out of the classroom.
  • Gender-sensitive school management:
    • Female teachers and academy managers provide a real-time role model within the classroom and community.  (Over 60% of our teachers are women).
    • Bridge further empowers girls through creating leadership roles for girls as well as boys including  Head girls and Prefects.
    • Bridge strongly enforces a strict policy against the expulsion of teen mothers in all its academies and this encourages retention in school. Read Nick Kristof’s blog post on this.
    • Bridge also enforces a strict policy against the use of corporal punishment on all pupils; meaning girls become more confident, expressive and engaged.
    • Girls can wear a variety of dresses, skirts or trousers depending on circumstance.
    • Bridge girl pupils share the same classrooms with their male peers.
    • All Bridge academies have single-sex sanitation facilities.
    • Partners such as Medecins Sans Frontiere partner with Bridge schools to teach girls about sanitation and sexual health.
    • Teacher and Academy Manager training programs include lessons on how to identify sexual abuse.
    • There are clear policies against inappropriate relationships between staff and pupils.
  • Accountability:
    • Through innovative wireless technology, Bridge engages in systematic gender-responsive monitoring to ensure effective evaluation of the progress of each of our girl pupils across indicators like attendance and academic performance.
    • Through Parent-Teacher Association meetings, Bridge parents form a network of empowered partners in seeking accountability in the education of their girl children.
  • Co-Curriculars:
    • Bridge encourages girls to hone and practice leadership skills through participation in various co-curricular activities like drama, Chess and the Arts and taekwondo. Girls are particularly encouraged to engage in sports like athletics, ball-games and taekwondo which typically have less female participation.
    • Bridge creates partnerships to deliver coding lessons to Bridge girls and this narrows the gender gap of women in STEM. Here’s 10 year old Sophia’s experience.

In recognition of its work to educate girls, Bridge was selected to be a part of the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect Accelerator in 2015.

Teaching girls to learn in the most challenging places

Bridge is proud to have reached near gender parity across all of our more than 500 schools. In the communities we work in, where girl students are traditionally less likely to be in school, this is unheard of. Bridge has reached this milestone due to our focus on bringing girls into the classroom in particularly in conflict and post-conflict areas, like northern Nigeria, south east Liberia and Garissa county in Kenya.

Enrollment rate of Bridge Girls in Conflict areas

For the start of the 2017-2018 school year, the Nigerian Stock Exchange partnered with Bridge and the Borno State Government to run a pilot school in northern Nigeria; an area where the extremist group Boko Haram actively targeted girls seeking formal education in the Chibok kidnappings. The partnership is committed to providing: “an inclusive, safe and positive teaching and learning environment.”

Borno State, Nigeria

Garissa, Kenya

South-east Liberia


How our girls excel in the classroom

Based on Bridge’s holistic approach to gender-equitable teaching and lesson design, our focus on helping girls grow in the classroom, and all the approaches described above, we have seen our girl pupils excel across a number of metrics.

  • On Kenya’s 2017 KCPE primary school exit exam, Bridge girls earned an additional 17 points above and beyond the national average for girls that year (out of 500 possible points). In 2017 girls who had attended a Bridge school for over five years were our highest performing cohort, averaging 287 marks. Since 2015, the number of Bridge girls passing their KCPE has increased by over 20%. Read this for more Kenya results.
  • On Uganda’s 2017 PLE primary school exit exam, 95% of Bridge girls were placed in Division 1 and 2 (top scores) with 62% of girls nationally achieving this status. Bridge girls were almost two and a half times more likely to achieve Division 1 or Division 2 than girls across Eastern Uganda. Read this for more Uganda results.
  • In Liberia, 68% of girls in Bridge PSLs (Compared with only 42% at local comparison schools) who couldn’t read a single word at the beginning of the year, could read by the end of the year. Read this for more Liberia results.
  • Eight pupils from our first and second graduating class in Kenya were awarded full scholarships to high schools in the US and of this, five of them were girls. Grace, Josephine, Natasha, Joyce and Melvin are currently receiving straight As at their respective high schools. Listen to Natasha Wambui’s story here.
  • Also in Kenya, 13-year-old Sharon Akinyi Bridge pupil from Keroka in Nyamira County won second place in the Kartasi essay-writing competition. She received Ksh 20,000.

We are confident that our girls will continue to succeed and we are excited to see how they will perform inside and outside the classroom, on national exams, and after they move on from Bridge.

Powerful Bridge Girls

Watch this video of five-year-old Kitty Elisha who represented Uganda at the African Junior Chess Championships in Zimbabwe:

Read more stories below.

Naomi Mutuku Williams

Naomi Mutuku Williams is a 10th-grader from Nairobi who graduated from Bridge. While many children her age were in second grade, Naomi spent her days walking the streets of her township. Her life changed when she was offered a sponsored place at Bridge. Now, Naomi is now in high school and is well on her way toward reaching her dream of becoming a doctor.

Read Naomi’s full story here. Skip to 1 min 11 secs to watch Naomi.

Grace Nyanchoka

Grace Nyanchoka grew up in Kiisi, Kenya. She remembers being pulled out of as many as six different primary schools by her mother by the time she was in 5th grade, for reasons that still bring her close to tears: teachers who called her “stupid”; beatings with cane rods; being made to sit outside for getting an answer wrong. In 5th grade, Grace went to Bridge, and said it was one of the first schools where she felt free to interact with her teacher and her friends. “There was no discrimination no matter your grade or how you perform because they want you to go up.” Today, Grace is a freshman studying on a full four-year scholarship at a prestigious American school  – Saint Andrews School in Boca Raton, FL.

Josephine Nyakundi

Josephine Nyakundi was born to a family of three children in greater Nairobi, and spent much of her childhood moving around the slums while her father looked for work. After spending years forced to live apart, Jo’s family reunited in 2013 in Kajiado County on the outskirts of Kenya. Jo was sent to the new school in the area, Bridge , and could not believe the difference – there were teachers in class every day who wanted to help her learn. Jo thrived at Bridge, making huge strides in her learning and being elected as the Head Girl of Bridge Academy, Ongata Rongai academy. At the end of Grade 8, she was selected as one of the leading pupils across the Bridge network and was accepted to join the prestigious Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Georgia, USA in January 2016. Since joining Rabun Gap, Jo has flourished – but she has not forgotten where she is from. She returned to Ongata Rongai for the summer and tutored pupils at her old academy. She wants to finish high school in the United States and hopes to go on to university and become a neurosurgeon.

Powerful Bridge Women

Bridge believes that by empowering women we can empower girls, so we created the Super Mama program. In Kenya, each Academy selects “Super Mamas”, who are closely involved with the school to work on empowerment programs.

‘Super Mamas’ are the voice of their local communities and contribute to planning and decision making within Bridge schools. In 2015, a Women Leaders Conference was held to enable Super Mamas to come together, share experiences, learn from each other and take that knowledge back to their communities.

In addition, these women continue to work in their communities and supporting other women in starting new businesses; creating forums around important issues, and acting as leaders. Various projects that have been lead by Super Mamas include the provision of sanitary pads to Bridge girls; supporting school feeding programs and helping other parents with financial planning.

Watching these Super Mamas in action provides great models for not only girls but also boys who come to value the important role that women play not only in home life but also community life. We hope to roll out the Super Mama program across other Bridge countries.