Gender equality program in Ethiopian schools turns Sebrina into an aspiring lawyer


A woman in Ethiopia in high school

Despite a difficult start to high school, 18-year-old Sebrina walked across the graduation stage to cheers from her family this spring.

“Today is a really big thing,” says Sebrina. “My family are really happy.”

For Sebrina and other young women in Ethiopia’s Benishangul Gumuz Regional State (BGR), earning a high school diploma is no small feat. Girls are less likely to attend or complete school because of societal, economic, and cultural barriers. This gender gap in both education access and achievement relegates girls and women to domestic or (often) unpaid labour, diminishing their roles in both homes and communities.

Enter U-GIRLS 2, a project supported by Cuso International that provides schoolgirls with resources, training, and a financial stipend so they can focus on their studies and achieve personal and professional growth.

This targeted program was a perfect match for Sebrina, who was falling behind in school because of domestic demands placed on her as the primary caregiver for her two younger brothers. Their parents’ property was destroyed in the region’s ethnic conflict. They are staying in an Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) centre, while Sebrina and her brothers are in the city. Initially, her family had been skeptical about her joining U-GIRLS 2 and focusing on her studies. They needed the extra income Sebrina was earning from cooking and cleaning for other families after school.

The program anticipated pushback such as this and has an action plan for it. Beyond the direct support for schoolgirls, U-GIRLS 2 facilitates broader societal change in BGR by training teachers, school administrators, education officials, and others in gender equality and social inclusion. To date, more than 6,500 other parents, guardians, and community members have received education on gender-related barriers to education and gender equality, including Sebrina’s family.

“That really helped to change their views,” Sebrina says.

Students in EthiopiaOver the course of her studies, Sebrina has developed passions for different potential careers. At first, she thought she wanted to be a doctor and help women who don’t necessarily feel comfortable sharing their concerns with male health care professionals. This can have devastating consequences—Sebrina has seen local women die in childbirth.

But lately, she thinks she wants to study law.

“I really want to advocate,” she says. “I want to really support women who don’t get justice.”

Since the project began in 2019, U-GIRLS 2 has directly supported more than 400 girls and women aged 15-25 to attend, remain, and succeed in their education. It targets seven secondary schools across BGR in partnership with the Benishangul Gumuz Regional Education Bureau and the Institute of International Education. Cuso International expects more than 90 per cent of these direct beneficiaries will attend university after the project.