In poor pastoralist communities in East Africa, girls traditionally serve as herders, fetching water, milking animals, cooking, and caring for others. Therefore, parents often prefer to keep girls at home instead of sending them to school. Girls can also bring in a hefty bridal price. Often, girls are married off at a young age, so investing in their education is often viewed as a waste of meager resources. In rural areas, marriage is often arranged or forced and frequently very young girls between the ages of 10 and 14 are forced to marry older men. As the result, many girls between the ages of 12 and 18 do not have the chance to go to school.
Girls who manage to go to school also face numerous challenges. Long daily commutes leave girls vulnerable to abduction and rape. Others drop out due to lack of financial support. With few life skills and little confidence, many young girls marry early and become mothers. They own nothing and are entirely dependent. In some cultural contexts, married women are inherited like property when their husbands die. Thus, thousands of girls are denied education, equality, dignity, and self-determination.
For too many families, education for girls is not considered a priority. Instead, most parents invest in boys, leaving a huge educational gender disparity. The Goats4Girls initiative addresses these inequalities in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. The program aims to economically empower girls by increasing enrollment, retention, and progression in school.
How It Works
Girls in danger of dropping out of school for economic reasons are selected for the program by parents, teachers, and IIRR local partner organizations. Girls who are performing well in school but come from poor homes are also eligible. Each girl receives 2 mature goats and parents often match with an additional goat, but parents unable to match are not required to do so. One goat can give birth twice in a year, often twins, and sometimes triplets. Each girl passes on the first 2 young goats to another selected girl and the process continues. Additional goats become part of the family herd and can be sold to pay for school expenses and other essential costs.
Pastoralist communities traditionally herd goats because they are hardy, drought-tolerant, and disease-resistant. The girls’ goats can join their family’s herd so they do not require extra care. There is also an existing local market for buying and selling goats, making them a clear asset. Moreover, goats are prolific producers. Two mature goats can multiply up to 10 to 15 goats in fewer than 18 months. The profit of one young goat can cover school supplies and fees for an elementary school girl for one term. The sale of three goats would be the equivalent of a salary for a local elementary school teacher or junior government official.
- In its inaugural year of Goats4Girls in 2012-2013, IIRR gave a pair of goats to 73 girls in Ethiopia. As a chain reaction from that initial group, 505 additional girls received two or more goats.
- In 2015, IIRR dispersed 906 goats to 453 girls, and an additional 664 goats were passed on to 332 girls by beneficiaries from previous years. As the result, 785 girls who dropped out of school, or were at risk of dropping out of school, were able to continue their education.
- Through IIRR’s mentoring programs and summer camps in Ethiopia, more than 1000 girls have acquired leadership skills. As a result, academic performance has risen and dropout rates have fallen.