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Promoting gender equality in

education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth
Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

May 2009
This reflective report was developed by
Oley Dibba-Wadda and edited by Joanna Hoare

With support from

The Commonwealth Education Fund

May 2009


Acknowledgements 2 5. Challenges

5.1 Adapting to a new way of working 14

1. Introduction
5.2  Encouraging partners to engage with the
1.1  Why is gender mainstreaming in
education so important? 3
5.3 Logistics 16
1.2  Gender mainstreaming in the
Commonwealth Education Funds 4
6.  Some reflections on what makes for a
good mentoring project
The Commonwealth Education Fund 4
6.1 Who makes a good mentor? 17

2.  The Gender Equality in Education 6.2  What needs to be in place for a mentoring
Project (GEEP) scheme to work? 19

2.1 Aims 5 Mentoring activities 19

2.2 What is mentoring? 5  Measuring the impact of a mentoring scheme 20

6.3 Supporting the mentor 22

3. Implementing the GEEP

3.1  Identifying country programmes to 7. Conclusion 23

participate 6
References 24
3.2 Bringing in the mentors 6

Identifying suitable mentors 6

3.3 Developing work plans 7

Case study: mentoring the Kenyan National

Association of Parents (KNAP) 9

4. What worked?

4.1 Achievements 10

Case study: increasing Ghanaian girls

school attendance through bylaws 11

Case study: sensitising school management

committees to gender issues in Malawi 12

4.2 Successful ways of working 12


Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project


Oley Dibba-Wadda was the project African Women Educationalist in Malawi, Photo credits:
manager for the Commonwealth plus the Ministries of Women and Child Front cover and pages 3, 13, 17 Geoff
Education Funds Gender Equality in Affairs, Education and Finance Malawi. Sayer/Oxfam
Education Project from 2006-2008. Other Vision Communication, Coastal Page 10 Oxfam GB
Association for Social Transformation Pages 21, 23 Crispin Hughes/Oxfam
Thanks go to Dr Nicholas Pialek for his
Trust, Noakhali Rural Development All other images Oley Dibba-Wadda.
support in bringing to life examples of
Programme and Friends in Village
GEEP mentoring experiences in Kenya,
Development Bangladesh.
Ghana, Malawi and Bangladesh and
also to Joanna Hoare for her support Special thanks also go to Dr Sheila
in editing the style and content of this Aikman from the University of East Anglia
reflected report. for her leadership, technical expertise
and support in the preparation of this
In addition, the commitment, support,
advice, guidance and expertise of the
following are acknowledged: The CEF Gender Equality Advisory
Group (GEAG): Dr. Caren Levy, Dr.
Mentors: Dr Nyokabi Kamau, Esnath
Elaine Unterhalter, Dr. Jyostna Jha and
Kalyati, Professor Clara Fayorsey, Dede
Akanksha Marphatia for their ideas,
Bedu-Addo and Rabeya Rowshan.
suggestions and advice;
Partners: Kenya National Association of
And the CEF team: David Archer, Katy
Parents, Girl Child Network and Elimu
Webley, Janice Dolan, Tom Noel, Chikondi
Yetu Coalition Kenya. The Northern
Mpokosa, Othman Mahmoud, Ines
Network for Education Development,
Smyth, Chike Anyanwu, Emily Lugano,
National Education Campaign Coalition
Jill Hart, Kjersti Mowe, George Tang,
Ghana. The Civil Society Coalition
William Migwi, Zakaria Suleman, Reuben
for Quality Basic Education, Synod of
Hukporti, Dorothy Konadu, Muntasim
Livingstonia, Transworld Radio, Forum for
Tanvir, Grace Taulo and Clara Ndovie.

1. Introduction

1.1 Why is gender mainstreaming in school enrolment and attendance rates Above: Peer mentoring.
education so important? for girls that are lower than 85%. More
significantly, the weakness, or even
Addressing gender inequality is a crucial
total absence, of gendered analysis and
aspect of any development work. This
gender sensitive practices in education
is particularly the case with regards to
work at the policy and programme level
education. Equal access to education is
means that the promotion of the rights
the foundation for all other development
of girls and boys in education through
goals. Not only is it a fundamental right
the transformation of power relations
that should be available to all children,
between them is often inadequately
female and male, in order to give them
addressed. To put it another way, policy
the best possible chance of realising their
debates and official commitments to
potential and supporting themselves as
gender mainstreaming in education
independent adults, but also, a clear
have not translated into practical
link has been established between
changes in the way that children are
educating girls and the future wellbeing
taught, and the values of those teaching
of themselves and their families, socially,
them. This means that in many contexts,
economically, and in terms of health.
girls and boys continue to be taught
In recognition of this, while most of the
using methods, and in environments, that
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
reinforces and upholds gender inequality
face a deadline of 2015, the gender
and negative gender stereotypes, rather
parity in education target (the third MDG)
than challenging them. Inevitably, this
was set to be achieved a full ten years
profoundly impacts on girls experiences
of school, lessening, or even negating
Sadly, 2005 and the deadline for the positive role that education can play
achieving the third MDG have passed, in realising womens rights and reducing
and 67 countries still have primary poverty.

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

1.2 Gender mainstreaming in the

Commonwealth Education Funds Commonwealth Education Fund
The Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) ran between 2002 and 2008, and was
A mid-term review of the Commonwealth set up by the UK Department for International Development. It aimed to promote civil
Education Funds (CEF) programme society input into the Education For All process, and raise the profile of international
to promote civil society input into the education targets in sixteen low-income Commonwealth countries in Africa and
Education For All (EFA) process revealed Asia. Jointly managed by ActionAid, Oxfam and Save the Children, the CEF also
a consistent failure to mainstream a aimed to increase public debate around education goals, promote gender equality
gender analysis and gender sensitive in education and focus on the needs of children outside the education system. The
practices into the programmes CEF had six objectives:
activities, despite a commitment to
gender mainstreaming within the Funds To strengthen broad-based and democratically run national education coalitions
mandate. CEF partners and networks To enable local voices and experiences to influence national-level policy and
had been encouraged to take part in practice
gender training workshops, but this had To ensure that sufficient financing is available to make public schools work for all
had little impact in the way that they then girls and boys
went on to carry out their activities. In To ensure resources reach where they are most needed
response to this, the Gender Equality in To promote innovative work and use the evidence from this experience to
Education Project was developed, with influence policy
the idea of providing targeted support To bring all excluded children, particularly girls, into public schools.
to partner organisations in four of the In 2005, the CEFs mid-term review highlighted the need to mainstream gender in
sixteen CEF countries. Developed within all its work in project and partner assessment, in budgeting work and in looking
a very short timeframe, and with a narrow at the exclusion of girls as it cuts across other categories of exclusion. The Gender
focus on four country programmes, the Equality in Education Project (GEEP) was set up to achieve this, principally through
GEEP was, in retrospect, an extremely the engagement of four gender mentors to work with partner organisations in the
ambitious project. target countries.

To access further publications and resources on the GEEP project, please visit www.

2. T
 he Gender Equality in Education
Programme (GEEP)
2.1 Aims individual mentees within the partner
organisation, with the mentor responding
The GEEP was drawn up in close
to their needs, working at their pace, and
consultation with CEF country offices
according to their priorities, and drawing
and partners, who revealed that people
on different strategies and training
did not want yet more one-off gender
methods as appropriate.
training workshops, but rather ongoing
support that would enable them to really 2.2 What is mentoring?
grasp the concepts and terminology
The GEEP did not begin with any fixed
behind gender mainstreaming, and
idea of what the mentoring support
provide them with practical ideas
should entail. Rather, in keeping with
to make their own activities more
Oxfams approach (used as the model
gender aware. CEF also recognised
for this project), mentoring was seen
that for the project to have long-term
as a process, constantly evolving in
impact and bring about real change
response to the needs and priorities of
in understandings and values around
the mentee; in this way, it was hoped
gender equality, a new approach that
that partner organisations would not feel
could provide responsive, sustained
that the project was being imposed upon
Malawi Gender Mentor, Esnath Kalyati and consistent long-term support was
them by the CEF. The mentors were not
providing support to the team to review needed. As such, the decision was
there to act as advisors setting the
gender on the CEF end of project taken to engage four gender mentors
agenda as to what the partners needed
evaluation format. to work with partner organisations in
to do, and then providing the answers as
Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Bangladesh
to how they should do it but rather as
for the remaining two years of the CEF
facilitators. This process support aimed
programme. These gender mentors
at gradually building up the capacity and
would in turn be supported by CEF
competency of the partner organisation
country offices, and by a Gender Project
and its staff through a range of ongoing
Manager, based in Oxfams head office
and linked activities.
in the UK.
It was important that mentors
Mentoring, it was felt, would facilitate
understood that theirs was a supportive
learning, enthusiasm, and confidence
rather than an advisory role. They were
around gender issues, enabling partner
not there to instruct mentees, but rather
organisations to: develop and implement
to be responsive, hold their hands
their own, good quality, gender equitable
and guide them towards developing
strategies and plans; carry out high
their own strategies for mainstreaming
quality monitoring and evaluation work;
gender into their activities and approach,
and document the processes and
through listening to their mentees during
outcomes of the mentoring project for
one-to-one and group discussions,
learning and sharing. It was envisaged
providing appropriate training using a
that mentors would work alongside
range of methods, and putting partner
partner organisations to identify which
organisations in touch with other
issues around gender mainstreaming
useful professional contacts, where
they felt confident and familiar with, and
applicable. Getting the balance right in
which issues presented blockages,
this relationship proved to be one of the
as well as identifying which training
most challenging aspects of this project,
methods partners would find most
as will be discussed below in section 5.
useful. Activities would be led by

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

3. Implementing the GEEP

3.1 Identifying country

programmes to participate Identifying suitable mentors

Four of the sixteen countries that were The following attributes were considered to be important in a potential mentor:
participating in the CEF programme
were selected to take part in the a substantial knowledge of broad gender issues as they relate to the work of
GEEP Malawi, Kenya, Ghana, and the partner
Bangladesh. Selection was on the basis an existing network of contacts and professional relationships around gender
of the results of a needs assessment and/or the area of work of the partner
to measure gaps in programming practical experience to which the partner can relate
relating to gender, and with the aim of the capacity to be both an insider and outsider the ability to engage and
engaging with programmes that worked disengage with organisations as appropriate
on different aspects of education and maturity and patience to both gain respect from the mentee but also to
which were geographically diverse. In manage conflict
addition, CEF country coordinators and a reasonable knowledge of both the mentee and any possible lead
partner organisations in Malawi, Kenya organisations involved.
and Ghana expressed positive interest
in the project, and were very keen to
take part. The case of Bangladesh was
rather different. The Bangladesh country Gender mentors were recruited in the four Kenya
programme office was persuaded countries by the end of March 2007, and The three CEF partner organisations
to take part in the GEEP, rather than spent the next few months familiarising working in Kenya the Girl Child
volunteering, resulting in the sense themselves with the work of the partners Network, the Elimu Yeti Coalition, and the
that this was a project being imposed and assessing their existing capacity Kenya National Association of Parents
from outside. In addition, the country on gender, going through work plans and Teachers (KNAP) requested support
coordinator made it clear that mentoring with each partner organisation. Mentors to develop advocacy programmes on
to support gender mainstreaming went about this in different ways. For four themes: managing the process of
would not be useful in the Bangladesh instance, in Malawi, a CEF monitoring and sexual maturation among girls and boys;
context, as the country had succeeded evaluation workshop for all the partner gender-responsive teaching methods and
in achieving parity of enrolment between organisations took place shortly after the school environments; gender sensitive
girls and boys in schools. This set-up mentor was recruited. She took advantage school curricula; and gender-based
meant that the mentor in Bangladesh of this opportunity to meet with the partner violence.
faced particular challenges, which will organisations and get to know them, and
be discussed in more detail below. followed this up with visits to the offices
The Northern Network for Education
of each organisation. In the process, the
3.2 Bringing in the mentors Development (NNED) and the Ghana
mentor identified what areas partners
National Education Campaign Coalition
Potential mentors were identified and wished to work on with her, and which
(GNECC) decided that they wanted to
approached in consultation with gender gaps in their understanding of gender
concentrate on two key areas in their
and education experts in the four issues were presenting the most pressing
work with the mentor: challenging cultural
countries, and advisors and managers obstacles to their capacity to mainstream
practices that limit girls opportunities
from the country programme officers of gender in their work.
to go to school, and the lack of women
the three CEF organisations ActionAid,
Partners then identified one objective teachers in rural areas.
Oxfam GB, and Save the Children. The
from each of their work plans for which
four gender mentors selected were all Malawi
they felt they would need mentoring
highly experienced and qualified in Working with four partner organisations and
support if their work to mainstream
their fields. two ministries the Civil Society Coalition
gender was to have real impact.
for Quality Basic Education (CSCQBE),

A group mentoring session between the

Bangladesh Gender Mentor and the CEF
Asia team.

the Synod of Lingingstonia, Trans World 3.3 Developing work plans

Radio, and FAWEMA, and the ministries
Each mentor went on to develop different
of Finance, and Education, Women and
work plans to fit in with the needs of the
Childrens Affairs the gender mentor
partner organisations with which she was
supported activities on gender budget
monitoring. The aim was to bring about
increased financial allocation to the In Malawi, the mentor conducted a
education sector. training workshop on gender budgeting
issues, during which it became apparent
that many participants did not have
As the CEF country coordinator did not
enough knowledge of gender issues
feel that mentoring to support gender
more generally to be able to benefit
mainstreaming was necessary in the
from the training. As a result, the mentor
Bangladesh context, the objective here
adapted her plans for the workshop,
was to support three partners to conduct
spending two days introducing the
research on how the country had
participants to concepts relating to
succeeding in reaching gender parity in
gender and gender mainstreaming,
school enrolment, and how this could be
before moving on to explore gender
budgeting. She followed this up with
visits to each organisation, where
she spent time helping mentees put
the gender budgeting tools they had
acquired in the workshop into practice.

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

CEF Gender Project Manager, Oley

Dibba-Wadda and Ghana Gender
Mentor, Clara Fayorsey providing support
to reflect gender in the work of the CEF
Coordinators in West Africa.

The mentor in Ghana worked with In Kenya, the gender mentors initial The mentor then went on to develop
two national coalitions, but as district impressions of the partners suggested that work plans with each organisation,
level organising was more coordinated two out of the three were not interested working with one to support the
than at the national level, the mentor in working on gender issues. As such, development of a gender audit process,
focussed her work at the district level. she began by holding a large meeting to and at another providing mentoring
This presented some logistical difficulties, discuss mentoring and the process of training on sexual maturation for those
as the coalitions were at opposite promoting gender equality. Though the working with adolescents.
ends of the country. In addition, staff partners came with a certain resistance,
Unfortunately, the mentor in Bangladesh
changes at the CEF country office left after the mentor spent time explaining
was unable to establish an effective
the mentor with no clear management that promoting gender equality was not
working relationship with the partner
structure, which had a negative impact a new project needing new money, but
organisations, meaning that she was
on her capacity to carry out the role, just a way of better understanding and
unable to support them in carrying
and on her relationship with the partner carrying out existing programme work,
out research into how the country
organisations. This eventually led the attitudes began to change, and staff in
had achieved gender parity in school
contracting of a new mentor, who was the partner organisations came to accept
enrolment. As a result, the mentor ended
able to re-establish an effective working that work on gender does not need to be
up producing a detailed report herself,
relationship with the two coalitions, and confrontational. This meeting also allowed
based on desk research.
in particular, worked effectively with the mentor time to informally assess the
the coalition based in the north of the partners, understand the different issues
country. they worked on, and develop ways of
providing effective support.

Case study: mentoring the Kenyan National Association of Parents (KNAP)

KNAP is a national body that brings together all the parent and teacher
associations in Kenya. Its main mandate is to monitor how government funds
are used in schools. When the mentor began to work with the organisation,
gender was not an issue that KNAP had taken on board. The first meeting
with the secretary general reflected a general ignorance about gender issues.
He was, however, willing to learn how gender could be a part of KNAPs work.
KNAP was in the process of recruiting monitors to work at the community level
to monitor the implementation of government educational policies. The mentor
identified the work of these new monitors as a solid entry point for integrating
gender analysis into KNAPs activities.

The first step involved getting the monitors (spread around the country) to
attend the initial gender group mentoring session. Fifteen monitors attended
the session, at which the mentor helped participants to explore and reflect on
gender concepts and gender inequality. She then went on to focus on the key
gender issues that needed to be monitored in Kenyan schools. Although each
region had different issues (lack of sanitary facilities for girls, lack of female
teachers, boys leaving school to find work in tourism, girl child marriages)
cultural practices, poverty and a lack of leadership were seen to be the major
causes of gender inequalities across the country. The monitors embraced
what they had learned in the session, and decided to carry out gender audits
on their return to identify the key issues in their schools. It was agreed that
they would all meet with the mentor again after three months to discuss their
findings and decide a way forward. The mentor continued to support the
monitors through telephone conversations over the intervening months, as
many needed support around understanding particular gender issues as they

The review session was held three months later. From the monitors personal
experiences of collecting the data they created a new gender aware
monitoring form that each could use to monitor the schools they visited.
These new forms included all the gender issues that should be checked
in schools, and the reports compiled were then fed back to the Ministry of

The mentor noted that it was clear the attitudes and practices of the monitors
had changed dramatically. They were now able to appreciate that girls and
boys faced different challenges in education, and that even when these
challenges were the same, girls and boys were often affected differently.

In addition to school monitoring KNAP also undertakes radio and TV work,

through which they raise awareness of education matters. The mentor agreed
with KNAP that these media briefs should promote gender equality, and she
supported them in doing so by providing intensive group mentoring sessions
on media gender advocacy skills.

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

4. What worked?

One-to-one mentoring.

At a meeting held in the UK in June 2008, and this was being reflected in advocacy strategies for bringing about change,
the mentors and the Gender Project documents and activities. In Malawi, such as tabling bylaws to prevent girls
Manager came together to discuss partner organisations felt the mentors being taken out of school for long periods
their experiences. Overall, there was a support had strengthened their capacity of time.
strong sense among the mentors and to incorporate gender analysis into their
In all three contexts, mentors reported that
the project manager that many of the work, with one partner reporting that:
partner organisations were now making
original intentions of the project had
we have been part of the NGOs deliberate efforts to ensure gender is
been realised, although the project in
that conducted a gender budgeting and raised in their discussions with education
Bangladesh remained the exception to
monitoring exercise in schools within authorities at all levels, and now felt
this. So what did the GEEP achieve, and
Zomba district using a questionnaire. confident to discuss gender issues openly
which elements of their project activities
The mentor helped us to review the in national and local forums.
worked, as far as the mentors were
questionnaire to take into account
concerned? Influencing district and national
more gender issues so that next time
4.1 Achievements we can do the exercise better. [] The
One of the objectives agreed for the
GEEP mentor has greatly added value
Changing attitudes mentoring work in Malawi and in Kenya
to the whole planning system and we
The three mentors from Malawi, Kenya, was that it would support partners to carry
are now able to seriously look at issues
and Ghana all noted that over the out monitoring of budget and resource
with gender lens within and outside the
course of the project, attitudes towards allocation at school, district and national
gender issues and their relevance to level. The mentor in Malawi felt that she
(GEEP Evaluation Report, p. 18).
programme activities among staff of had had considerable success in this,
the partner organisations had begun The mentor in Ghana felt that by the particularly at the national level, in part
to shift. In Kenya, the mentor reported end of the project, partners had a much because her connections and willingness
that partners who had no previous better understanding of the socio- to engage with government officials in a
understanding of gender, or considered cultural construction of gender and non-confrontational way had meant that
it to be something only relating to girls gender inequalities, and were also openly partners and ministry officials had come
and their welfare now felt confident and questioning activities labelled gender together to work on gender mainstreaming
comfortable talking about gender, for but which only targeted girls, noting education budgets. As a result, partners
instance in radio interviews. They also the backlash that this often produced had come together to draw up guidelines
accepted the need for more nuanced among boys who felt that they were being on gender budget monitoring which were
gender analysis in their work, considering sidelined. She reported that partners endorsed by the Ministry of Finance;
the needs of males as well as females, had begun to develop their own creative a forum for continued and sustained

dialogue had been established involving

Case study: increasing Ghanaian girls school attendance through bylaws
the CEF partners and relevant ministries;
and the ministries of gender and finance
In northern Ghana, the Northern Network for Education Development (NNED) district
were working together on mainstreaming
Education For All teams have been working in communities and schools to address
gender into budgeting, as a result of their
cultural practices that directly impact upon girls school attendance.
involvement in the GEEP. As a result,
changes to finance ministry guidelines Fostering practices have serious implications for young girls who are sent to stay
on budgeting for all ministries, including with relatives, particularly their paternal aunts, as household helps. They are often
education, meant that ministry budgets expected to work extremely hard from dawn to dusk, or are sent out to work as
for 2009-10 were developed using gender street traders. Frequently, they are not allowed to go to school.
budgeting processes. Funerals in northern Ghana can last up to two or three months. During this period,
people move and stay with the bereaved families to keep them company during
In Kenya, the mentor reported that
the mourning period, and take their children, particularly girls, with them. During this
accessible policy documents on gender
time the children help with chores and errands and do not go to school.
budget monitoring had been distributed
In some parts, young girls are kidnapped by men or their families, and taken to
at district level, raising awareness and
the mans village. They are then made pregnant and messages are sent to the
building interest in the issue; she noted
girls family to inform them that they have their daughter who is pregnant and that
that this had a multiplier effect up to
marriage arrangements should be made. Once married, the girl is unable to return
ministries at government level, who were
to school.
now showing a greater interest in working
on gender issues in education. Through creating awareness of the impacts of these practices on girls education,
as well as by working with communities to develop responses to these practices,
Building strong relationships
the NNED teams have influenced attitudes in these communities. For example, the
All three mentors reported that one of the
House of chiefs in Tamale has established bylaws to prevent children, particularly
most important outcomes of the project
girls, from being taken out of school for the above practices.
was the establishment of strong working
relationships, between the mentor and
the partners, and among the partner
organisations and agencies. The mentor
in Malawi felt that the network of the
six partners and government bodies
with whom she worked had really been
strengthened as a result of the mentoring

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

project; she and all the partners had

Case study: sensitising school management committees to gender issues in expressed their desire to continue the
Malawi mentoring and collaborative relationship
into the future, as both sides felt that
The Synod of Livingstonia was involved in strengthening community participation they had gained considerably from the
in both the management of schools and the monitoring of education resources at experience.
Kalowe and Chisenga, in Chitipa, northern Malawi.
Meanwhile, the mentor in Ghana
Through working with the gender mentor they developed both their capacity and reported that she had been able to
confidence in promoting gender equality. For example, the Synod of Livingstonia identify champions within the partner
was specifically involved in working with school management committees (SMCs) organisations who were keen to continue
to monitor the distribution of resources and their impact in schools, training them with the work that she had begun with
to use gender-monitoring tools. The Synod also proactively engaged in discussions them; she was pleased that she had
with the members of these committees (as well as parents more generally) on been able to use her personal contacts
the impact of traditional gender relations and expectations on girls educational to provide opportunities for these
attainment. champions to develop new networks
Early marriage and expectations that girls would carry out domestic chores were for future activities. Building strong
topics discussed with communities, and they were the issues specifically addressed relationships with partners was, it was
by the new monitoring tools. At the end of the GEEP, the organisation was already agreed, the best way to encourage
starting to see the impact of its work in the communities. Through monitoring who commitment to the project, and
is doing domestic chores in school hostels, the communities realised that girls enthusiasm for the concept of mentoring
were overburdened and this affected their work at school. In response to this, itself, and the benefits that it could bring
the SMCs took action to split the chores between boys and girls. Furthermore, to the partner organisation. The fact
awareness raising around early marriage resulted in a drop in such marriages in the that mentors and partners were keen
communities, and a decrease in the removal of young girls from schools. to continue the mentoring relationship
beyond the cessation of the CEF
indicates that positive changes brought
about by mentoring in partners on gender
will be sustained in the long term.

4.2 Successful ways of working

Focusing on one issue
Both the mentor in Malawi and the mentor
in Kenya felt that working with partner
organisations on one specific issue and
/ or activity was beneficial for both sides.
For instance, focusing on supporting
partners to develop skills to carry out
gender budgeting and monitoring meant
that the mentor in Malawi was able to
develop a targeted approach with more
readily achievable outcomes that could be
appreciated by the partners.

All three mentors recognised how
important it was to be flexible, both
in terms of the amount of time and

energy they put into the project, and in commented, the mentor must also accept Girls peer mentoring.
responding to the partners changing that much of this behind the scenes
needs and priorities. At the reflection work will remain invisible, and may not be
meeting, the mentors and the Gender formally acknowledged.
Project Manager agreed that for a project
Value added
like this to be successful, the mentor
It was recognised that mentors have to
really had to go beyond a 9-5 attitude,
have something to offer partners, beyond
and accept that the role would involve
a listening ear or targeted training, that will
considerable travel, as well as the need to
make it worth the partners while to take
stay in regular telephone communication
part in the project. This could be extensive
with partners. In terms of responding to
personal contacts, such as those of the
partners needs, the mentors agreed that
mentor in Ghana, or previous experience
a mentor needed to have a wide range of
of working in national government, which
training strategies from observing and
is what the mentor in Malawi was able
assessing partners activities to providing
to bring to the project in both cases,
workshop training at her disposal, as
this meant that the mentor was able
well as the time and the patience to listen
to facilitate the establishment of new
to individual staff members and respond
working relationships between the partner
to their concerns and queries at an
organisation and other agencies, to the
individual level. As the mentor from Kenya
benefit of the partners future activities.

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

5. Challenges

Kenya Gender Mentor, Nyokabi Kamau

providing group mentoring support.

As the discussion above indicates, this partner and mentor adequate time to
project did achieve some significant and allow the relationship to evolve and
important outcomes which, provided develop), in practice, it left both mentors
they can be sustained and the partner and partner organisations rather
organisations remain committed to confused as to what the role of the
mainstreaming a gender analysis into mentor should be. As the mentor from
their work, should have long term, Kenya remarked:
positive impact on the education of girls
Since there lacked a clear
and boys in the communities where
understanding of the mentors role
the partners are working. However,
in the first three months, there was
the project was limited in what it could
confusion as to what I was to do
achieve in such a short period of time, in
hence for most of the time, partners
addition to which all four mentors faced
expected me to work for them.
considerable challenges in adapting to
(GEEP Evaluation Report, p. 19).
this new way of working, encouraging
partner organisations to engage with As a result, it was very easy for
the project, and overcoming various mentors to fall into the role of advisor,
logistical difficulties. or consultant, (a role with which they
were all very familiar), there to provide
5.1 Adapting to a new way of
analysis, build capacity, fill gaps in
knowledge, or implement the gender
As discussed above in section 2, the element, resulting in their feeling
GEEP did not begin with a fixed idea overburdened with demands on their
of what the mentoring support should time that they could not meet in the two
entail; rather, mentoring was seen days a week that they had to carry out
as a process, constantly evolving in their mentoring activities. It was just as
response to the changing needs and easy for partners to accept this kind of
priorities of the partner organisation. support, and to let the mentor do the
While in principle, this was an admirable work for them. This was particularly the
approach, and one that might have case with the first mentor contracted in
worked very well in a project with a Ghana, who, partly as a result of lack
much longer time frame (giving both of managerial support from the CEF

country office, very much put herself in 5.2 Encouraging partner seeing it as irrelevant to their activities.
the position of advisor, there to instruct organisations to engage with the In some cases, male leaders of partner
the partners with whom she was GEEP organisations were openly sexist towards
working, rather than supporting them to the mentor, belittling her and her work.
In all four-country contexts, the project
think through themselves how the issues Again, the failure of CEF country offices to
faced difficulties in introducing and
that they faced were shaped by gender. explain exactly why partners were being
integrating this new approach to
It is probably fair to say that the CEF offered this support, and how participating
supporting gender mainstreaming into
underestimated how much support the in the GEEP would benefit them in the
existing CEF and partner activities. One
mentors would need themselves to carry long run, contributed to this feeling that
reason for this was that by the time that
out this kind of work, or the extent to the mentors lacked legitimacy.
the mentoring project began, partners
which prior experience of mentoring, or Further down the line, mentors found
had already been involved with the CEF
of being mentored, might have enabled that partners were reluctant to put the
programme for over two years, and had
the mentors to adapt to their role in this time into documenting their work with
already developed their own agendas
project more easily. the mentor, meaning that, as the mentor
and work plans; it was not easy for the
in Ghana pointed out, valuable learning
Four months into the project, an mentors to find an entry point from which
was lost. Again, this could be the result
interactive learning session was they could begin to provide mentoring
of an overall lack of engagement with
organised, bringing together the four support, without seeming to disrupt the
the project and its aims, and a failure to
mentors, the CEF Africa Regional work that the partners were already doing.
see how the work that they were doing
Co-ordinator, and staff from the CEF It also, in some cases, meant that the
with the mentor would be important in
UK secretariat, including the Gender mentor was unwilling to challenge the way
the long term to the future activities of
Project Manager. This was the first time some of the partner organisations were
the organisation.
that the mentors were able to meet, carrying out their activities; for instance, in
and to discuss what it meant to be Ghana the first mentor did not challenge Sadly, the mentor in Bangladesh was
a mentor with each other, CEF staff, the fact that one partners activities were never able to establish an effective
and a facilitator who had considerable exclusively focused on girls, and that working relationship with the partner
experience of mentoring herself. At this was having a very negative effect on organisations. To begin with, the CEF
the end of the session, the mentors gender relations between girls and boys country co-ordinator openly distanced
went away with a much clearer idea of in that community, with boys deliberately the GEEP from the CEF programme,
what mentoring entails, and, perhaps trying to get girls pregnant because they meaning that the mentor felt isolated
more significantly, were able to go felt excluded. and disempowered both within the
back to their partners with an informal CEF and in her relationship with the
Mentors also faced difficulties initially
contract outlining their own duties and partners. This was partly because while
in getting themselves, and the gender
responsibilities to the organisations. the other countries that took part in
mainstreaming support that they were
This helped considerably in clarifying the the GEEP had volunteered to do so,
trying to provide, taken seriously by the
relationship between the mentor and the CEF country office in Bangladesh
partners. This was particularly difficult
the partner and, as discussed above, had been approached and asked to
in situations where the mentor did not
in two cases in particular (Kenya and take part. As a result, the country co-
feel that she had the support of the CEF
Malawi), the mentors went on to develop ordinator may have felt that the GEEP
country office, as this meant she had less
successful mentoring relationships with had been imposed upon him, making
legitimacy in the eyes of the partners,
their partner organisations. Clearly, him reluctant to champion the project. In
and that they were less interested in
ensuring that both mentors and partners addition, the partner organisations were
working with her, as they could not
had a thorough understanding of what all male-dominated, and were openly
see how her presence and the support
mentoring entailed would have helped hostile to the mentor and what she was
she was offering fitted in with the other
the GEEP get of the ground more trying to achieve. The wider context in
CEF activities. In addition, several of the
successfully from the outset. Bangladesh does need to be taken into
partner organisations were initially hostile
account here the countrys success
to the very idea of working on gender,
in meeting the third MDG in achieving

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

gender parity in school enrolment meant with one of the two coalitions than
that for NGOs working on education with the other. In both cases, a more
issues, gender (understood as parity realistic assessment of what the mentor
in enrolment) was no longer seen as a could achieve in terms of support at
priority in their work. For this reason, the outset of the project would have
the partners invited to take part really avoided this feeling of frustration on the
did not see how what the mentor was part of the mentors, as well as giving
trying to achieve was relevant to their the partners a better idea of what they
work, even though she was contracted could realistically expect to gain from
to work with them to explore how the participating. In addition, it would be
country had been so successful in fair to say that the sustained changes
increasing school enrolment among in deep-seated attitudes around gender
girls (and boys), rather than to provide inequality envisaged by the project
gender mainstreaming support. In designers could really only be brought
addition, the CEF programme was about over a much longer timeframe
coming to an end in Bangladesh, than that allowed by the GEEP.
meaning that partners were bringing Integrating mentoring support for gender
their CEF activities to a close; again, mainstreaming into the CEF programme
this gave them little incentive to engage from the very beginning could have
with the GEEP. These factors combined resulted in mentors being better placed
to mean that all in all, the project in to deliver against the targets set in the
Bangladesh was not a success. monitoring and evaluation framework,
as well as giving them, and the partners,
5.3 Logistics
more of an opportunity to settle into
The GEEP was, on reflection, an this new way of working, and establish
extremely ambitious project, both in its effective working relationships.
goal of altering deep-seated attitudes
Another logistical issue that impacted
around gender equality so quickly, and
on the capacity of the mentors to
in what it thought the mentors could
carry out their role effectively was high
achieve in such a short space of time,
staff turnover within the CEF country
and working two days a week.
offices; this was particularly an issue
The mentors in Kenya and Ghana
in Ghana and Malawi. This meant that
both expressed frustration at the
the mentors did not receive consistent
limited amount of time that they were
managerial support from the CEF
contracted to spend on the project,
country coordinators, and were often
with the mentor in Kenya reflecting that,
left unsure as to whom to report to. In
working part time on the project, she
the case of the first mentor contracted
did not feel able to deliver against the
in Ghana, this had a significant negative
monitoring and evaluation outputs or to
impact on the quality of her work.
give the partner organisations what they
While the Gender Project Manager did
needed. The mentor in Ghana worked
provide lengthy telephone support to
with two different coalitions in different
the mentors, her geographical distance
regions of the country: providing
meant that she was not able to provide
mentoring support to both on a two-
day-to-day support of the kind that
day a week contract was practically
might have helped the mentors to adapt
impossible, meaning that in the end,
to this new way of working more quickly.
the mentor worked more extensively

6. Some reflections on what makes

for a good mentoring project

One-to-one peer mentoring. It is important to note that this was a It is a role that requires certain skills
small-scale project, both in terms of and attributes some generic, such
timescale and geographical reach. The as good communication skills, the
discussion below is not meant to serve ability to put people at ease and inspire
as a definitive guide to mentoring, but confidence, and maturity, and some
rather, draws together the mentors specific to the project in question, such
own reflections on what factors they as knowledge and experience of working
feel would contribute to a successful on the particular issues that a partner is
mentoring scheme. concerned with, and the capacity to bring
the partner organisation into contact
6.1 Who makes a good mentor?
with individuals, networks, and agencies
In reflecting on their experience of that it would not otherwise have been
mentoring, the mentors all agreed that able to access. In the GEEP, substantive
mentoring is not an activity that should be knowledge of issues around gender and
taken on lightly, in any capacity. Choosing education was clearly essential. But so
the right mentor for a particular project was having a network of professional
needs to be a careful process, taking into contacts, an appreciation of power
account what the partner organisation relations within the political, social, and
hopes to gain from mentoring, and cultural context in which the partner
what the would-be mentor can offer. works, and knowledge and understanding

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

of the partners area of work, as well as

practical examples relating to this area of
work that that partner could relate to and
perhaps integrate into their own activities.
For instance, for the partners involved
in the GEEP in Malawi, the mentors
experience of working within government
and her personal contacts in the ministries
who were invited to take part in the gender
budgeting exercise were just as important
as her skills and experience of working on
gender budgeting.

Mentoring also demands long-term

commitment, a great deal of flexibility, and
a willingness to work with the people who
are being mentored, responding to their
needs, and adapting activities to provide
them with the right kind of support at the
right time, rather than seeing oneself as
an advisor, there to impart wisdom to the
partner. The mentors agreed that anyone
CEF Africa Regional Coordinator, Emily taking on this role had to be willing to
Lugano, facilitating a team work exercise think of it as extending beyond the 9-5
to the CEF Coordinators. working day, and to be prepared to keep
in regular telephone communication with
partners, and travel to spend time with

As the mentor in Ghana pointed out, the

need to travel to spend time with partners
is a significant demand on the mentor,
and one that she found difficult to meet,
given the physical distance between the
two coalitions she was working with. The
mentors also felt that it was important
to establish an insider-outsider location
within the partner organisation, earning
the trust and respect of the individuals
working there, while still being in a position
to rise above, and manage, conflict;
all agreed that patience and maturity
were key attributes in this regard, as
well as the ability to manage multiple
relationships within and outside the
partner organisations. In all these areas,
good communication skills and the ability
to establish relationships of trust were
seen as key.

Mentoring activities

The mentors who had taken part in the GEEP agreed that mentoring involves a
wide range of different activities. These might include:

Initial needs assessment

One-to-one and group training to build capacity on gender issues
Field visits
Providing targeted support to individuals, including offering a listening ear if
that is all that is desired
Imputing into key documents
Advising over the phone, via email, and in person
Putting partners in touch with other organisations, networks, and individuals
Developing advocacy
Supporting partners to conduct research and analysis
Responding to requests for information
Conducting ongoing evaluation and assessment of the project, in order to
feed back into the mentoring process.

6.2 What needs to be in place for a work in Bangladesh, but it also created organisation. The mentor got around
mentoring scheme to work? considerable extra work for the other this by working directly with regional-
mentors involved in the project, all of level chapters of the organisation, but
The success of a mentoring project does
whom faced some level of resistance this initial refusal to engage on the part
not just rely on picking the right person
from some, or all of the partners with of the organisations leader was hardly
to provide mentoring support. Just as
whom they worked. Of course, within an ideal start to the project; in addition,
important is picking the right partner
any organisation, there will be individuals it is questionable how sustainable
organisation to receive that support,
who are reluctant to accept that gender the introduction of gender budgeting
ensuring that the environment in which
has anything to do with their work, at the regional level will be, given the
the mentor will be working is supportive,
and part of the mentors role is to try lack of support from the organisations
and managing expectations on both
and change such attitudes, as well as leadership.
identifying gender champions who will
All the mentors also agreed that
Where is mentoring support take the work forward after the mentors
mentoring is far more successful and
appropriate? formal engagement with the organisation
results in more tangible positive results
If it is to have any sustainable impact, has ceased. But this is rather different
when partners agree to work with the
mentoring support for gender from the mentor having to deal with open
mentor on a specific issue, or task,
mainstreaming should only be offered hostility on the part of the leadership
such as introducing gender budgeting
to organisations that actively want to of the organisation, as the mentor in
(in the case of the GEEP in Kenya and
receive it. This may seem an obvious Bangladesh faced. The mentor in Kenya
Malawi). In this case, the mentor is able
point, but is one that does not seem reported that she also came up against
to offer targeted support, with an agreed
to have been taken into account in the charismatic national-level leader
outcome in mind, meaning that both
deciding which organisations should of one of the partners with whom she
mentor and mentee have a clear idea the
participate in the GEEP. As detailed worked, who was not at all interested
destination they are trying to reach. The
above, this resulted in a very difficult in accepting the partners support in
mentors based in Kenya and Ghana also
situation for the mentor contracted to developing gender budgeting within the
pointed out the importance of ensuring

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

that partners invited to participate in

mentoring have at least a basic level Measuring the impact of a mentoring scheme
of capacity in terms of complying with
reporting requirements, to ensure that The mentors suggested the following as examples of realistic indicators:
important learning around the mentoring
Internal and external documentation produced by the partners consistently
project is not lost.
includes an understanding of gender, asks critical/key questions around
Creating an enabling environment gender, and provides answers that work to transform gender relations
Another thing to consider, in addition Projects and programmes address issues around the equal participation of
to the commitment of the organisation men, women, boys, and girls
to receiving mentoring support, is Partners develop/implement activities that work specifically on gender issues
whether or not the wider environment Language on gender is adopted and used with enthusiasm by partner
is conducive to enabling the success of Partners desire to replicate and continue with the mentoring relationship
the mentoring scheme. This enabling
In the longer term, possible additional achievements were identified as:
environment extends beyond the direct
relationship between the mentor and Policy environment starts to shift
the mentee, to encompass the level Changes in attitudes and beliefs occur in the communities
to which the mentoring scheme is
integrated into the partner and lead
agencys wider programme, the political The wider political environment can also with whom the mentor was working to
environment in which the partner affect the mentors capacity to carry continue with their programmes, and
organisation is operating, and whether out her role, both in terms of political forcing the mentor to reduce the range of
or not communication and transport support to the promotion of gender her activities to working on media training
infrastructure are well developed enough equality, and in terms of the level of with just one of the partners. However, it
to allow the mentor to maintain regular freedom for civil society organising, is important to bear in mind the extent to
contact with partner organisations who and political stability. For instance, the which external political factors can impact
may be scattered across a wide area. gender budgeting carried out in Malawi on the capacity of the mentor to carry out
To a greater or lesser extent, all four of and Kenya had the promotion of links her role.
the mentors involved in the GEEP felt and coordination between CSOs and
Managing expectations
that the project was not really properly local and national government bodies
One of the most significant lessons
integrated into the CEFs wider activities, as one of its main aims. A project like
to come out of the GEEP was the
mainly as a result of it being introduced that would not be successful in an
importance of managing expectations, in
so late into the programme. Where CEF environment where there is hostility on
terms of what support the mentor should
country co-ordinators were supportive, the part of the state towards civil society
realistically be asked to provide in the time
as in the case of the project in Malawi, and restrictions on NGO activity, and /
available, what the partner can expect
this did not significantly jeopardise the or a total lack of political will to address
to gain from involvement in the project,
success of the scheme, but where there gender inequality.
and what impact the mentoring support
was open hostility towards the GEEP on Likewise, as the mentor in Bangladesh
will have on the attitudes and practices
the part of the CEF co-ordinator, as was found, trying to provide mentoring support
of those active within the partner
the case in Bangladesh, implementing on gender is very difficult in a political
organisations. It is fair to say that on all
the GEEP proved to be impossible. environment where gender mainstreaming
three counts, the GEEP was somewhat
Ensuring that the mentor receives is no longer seen as a priority, because
over-optimistic in what it thought could be
consistent managerial support is also an the problem of gender inequality in
achieved in such a relatively short space
important enabling factor, and one that education has officially been solved.
of time, and with mentors only contracted
is closely linked to how well integrated There is of course no way that the GEEP
to work two days a week.
the mentoring scheme is within the could have planned for the political unrest
lead agencys wider programme, and that swept through Kenya in early 2008, At the outset of the GEEP, there was a
whether or not it is seen as a priority. making it impossible for the partners desire not to impose a fixed definition

A good mentor should encourage

mentees to question their beliefs and
values and find solutions to address what
ever challenges these values and beliefs.

of what the mentoring support should then make it possible to develop a clear
consist of. While this is admirable from strategy and plan of action as to what
the perspective of encouraging the could be achieved within the limits of that
partner organisations to feel that they relationship, and in the time available.
owned the project, and could decide
Moving on to what can realistically be
for themselves what sort of support they
achieved over the course of a short-term
needed, and where, it in fact left both
mentoring scheme to support gender
sides rather confused as to what they
mainstreaming, the mentors who took
were supposed to be doing. As discussed
part in the GEEP agreed that mentoring
above in section 5, this led to several of
is just one part of a long term process of
the mentors initially taking on the more
institutional change and cannot readily
traditional role of advisor. On reflection,
or easily be related to the specific impact
all the mentors were of the opinion that
that partner activities have within society
the early stages of the project would have
in the long term. That said, it is important
been easier if both mentor and mentee
to identify some indicators that the
had a clear idea of scope and limitations
mentor, partner, and lead agency can use
of the mentors relationship with the
to measure the impact of the mentoring
mentee. Once established, this would
on the partners activities.

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project

6.3 Supporting the mentor

What support do mentors need?
Finally, in designing a mentoring scheme
to support gender mainstreaming, it is The mentors involved in the GEEP came up with the following examples of
extremely important to consider what what support they benefited from over the course of the project.
support will be available to the mentors
themselves. All the mentors who The key for the GEEP team was ongoing and regular review and reflection.
took part in the GEEP were extremely These reviews became key turning points, enabling the mentors to adapt and
experienced and knowledgeable on develop their working practices as the GEEP progressed.
gender issues in education, but all found The mentors and gender project manager kept personal diaries highlighting
it difficult to adapt to this new way of their high and low points, and identifying what went wrong and why.
working with partner organisations,
rather than providing advice and Mentors and the GPM came together as a team to identify strategies.
leadership to them. In this way, they Mentors felt that working together as a team (as one family on a mission to
needed considerable mentoring support promote gender equality in education through mentoring) was their greatest
themselves, in addition to day-to-day strength and prevented individual mentors feeling that they were expected to
managerial support, something that have all the answers.
the Gender Project Manager was able Regular communication with each other, sharing lessons, reports, plans and
to provide. This included face-to-face strategies was another strategy. This made the mentors feel that they were
meetings as often as the GPM was able not alone in this quest, and helped to create a stronger bond within the team.
to travel to countries participating in the It also meant that learning was shared within the team.
scheme, and frequent teleconferences.
In addition, the mentors stayed in regular Bi-weekly teleconferences with the GPM helped the mentors to express some
contact with each other, which also of the frustrations they were experiencing, and work out how to resolve them.
provided a valuable means of sharing
ideas and resources, and providing peer
support. Having the chance to meet and
discuss their reflections on the project at
the three meetings held for the mentors
over the course of the two years was also
identified as very important in allowing
the mentors to gain some perspective on
their work, and in boosting morale.

7. Conclusion

In the three locations where the mentors

were able to forge positive working
relationships with partner organisations,
feedback from those partners, and from
the mentors themselves, indicates that
the project was beginning to bring about
positive change in peoples attitudes
towards gender equality, and the need
to integrate a gender analysis into their
work. As a result, those working in the
partner organisations were beginning
to feel more confident talking about
gender and using it as a frame of analysis
in their work. They had also begun to
come up with their own innovative ways
of trying to redress gender inequality
and discrimination against women and
girls in education in the communities in
around gender equality and facilitating A mentors most valuable skills are
which they worked (such as drawing
gender mainstreaming, in combination listening more and speaking less.
up bylaws against oppressive cultural
with other forms of support and training.
practices in Ghana, and designing and
But as the mentors involved in the GEEP
using monitoring forms to record the
reflected, key to the future success of
distribution of domestic tasks in schools
similar schemes would be the successful
in Malawi, as discussed above). It is
integration of a mentoring scheme into
hoped that these new ways of working
any gender mainstreaming project from
indicate shifts in attitude, and will have
the very beginning, with full managerial
positive outcomes for the children in these
support, adequate resources and time
communities. There are also positive
allocated to the mentor, and clear links
indications that the gender champions
made between the mentors role and the
that mentors identified within the partner
organisations wider programme.
organisations will go on to provide
mentoring support themselves to their The decision to offer prolonged support
colleagues, initially with ongoing informal in the form of mentoring over one-off
support from the original mentors. This gender training workshops represents
means that positive shifts in attitude an important shift in attitude on the
are more likely to be sustained and part of the CEF and the lead agencies
replicated throughout the organisations, involved, and a recognition that gender
although it will be necessary to revisit mainstreaming is a complex process
the partner organisations in a few years that cannot happen over night. Rather, if
time to see whether this is the case. So partners are to do gender mainstreaming
while the projects limited timescale and properly and more importantly, to do
geographical reach mean that it would be it confidently, and in a way that makes
wrong to make any wider claims in terms sense to them they need to be provided
of its impact, these outcomes do indicate with sustained support that helps them
that this type of targeted mentoring to come to their own conclusions
support could be one means of bringing and develop their own strategies for
about sustainable changes in attitudes integrating gender analysis into their work.

Promoting gender equality in education through mentoring

Reflecting on the experience of the Commonwealth Education Funds Gender Equality in Education Project


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Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF)
Global Secretariat
Hamlyn House, MacDonald Road
London N19 5PG
telephone: +44 (0) 20 7561 7607
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