When a woman is educated, it changes not only her life but those of her children and her family. Educating women translates to higher economic productivity, reduced child mortality, improved family nutrition and health, and increased prevention of HIV/AIDS. It greatly increases the chances of education for the next generation—for both boys and girls.
The good news is that more girls are going to primary school throughout Africa than ever before. However, prejudice, poverty, travel distance and cultural traditions keeps less than 17 percent of them from going on to complete secondary school (grades 7 to 12). And only a handful of those who graduate from secondary school go on to university, vocational school or some form of job training.
If the great advances in primary education for girls in Africa are to have a lasting impact, there is an urgent need for similar advances in secondary and higher education for girls.
West African singer, songwriter and UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo made up the word “batonga.” At a time when education for girls was not socially acceptable in her native country of Benin, Angelique invented the word as a response to taunts when she was going to school. The boys did not know what the word meant, but to her it was an assertion of the rights of girls to education.
Later it became the title of a hit song of Angelique’s in which her lyrics address a young African girl and can be roughly translated as, “you are poor but you dance like a princess, and you can do as you please regardless of what anyone tells you.” Now Angelique has given this name to an US-based non-governmental organization that is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit.
“Educating girls in Africa gives them the strength and the tools they need to be the mothers of change,” Angelique said when launching Batonga. “My mother was educated and she fought for me to go to school, despite pressure from many in our extended family who argued that only boys should be educated. And my daughter is now in school. Once an African woman is educated, she fights to ensure both sons and daughters receive an education. From this is born a tradition that is passed on and grows from family to family, from generation to generation—a tradition that is going to change the future for Africa.”