Home > Feature > Sr Brigid makes strong Misean Cara case for Girls Education at Oireachtas Committee

On the 17th of October 2019, the Dóchas Education Group made a submission to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs & Trade & Defence (JFATD) on inclusive and equitable education. Misean Cara member Sr Brigid Tunney from the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto) highlighted the importance of girls’ education to sustainable development. Misean Cara’s Project Officer Eamonn Casey shares some of the key highlights from the day. Read Eamonn’s blog below.

Sr Brigid Tunney, Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto) and Misean Cara staff took part in a Dóchas member briefing to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence on Thursday, presenting the vital importance of girls’ education to sustainable human development in the Global South.

Propitiously marking International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, 17 October, Misean Cara joined Dóchas education working group colleagues to address the many and intersecting barriers to girls’ education.

However, echoing the UN’s theme for 17 October this year – empowering children, families and communities to end poverty – they also pointed to the transformational impact that inclusive and equitable quality education (SDG4) has for educated girls, their families, communities and societies.

Sr Brigid described for Joint Committee members the challenges of supporting girls education in South Sudan, where child marriage is common, it is often considered better to marry a girl off quickly to bring a dowry or bride-price into the family, and a girl of 15 years old is more likely to be married with children than to be in school.

Yet, following on a long tradition and continuing practice of Irish missionary education in developing countries, the Loreto Girls’ Secondary School in Maker Kuei, Rumbek, founded with 35 students in 2008, offers a quality education to 291 girls today. With the students in this boarding school – keeping them safe from the risk of violence, rape and forced marriage in their troubled country – and the innovation of a Commitment Form, signed by a male family member and committing to ensure girls get at least four years of secondary schooling – the Loreto Sisters have seen the student drop-out rate fall from 68% to just 1.4% annually.

From [L – R] Anne O’Mahony, Head of International Programmes with Concern, Sr. Brigid Tunney with the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto), Eamonn Casey, Project Officer with Misean Cara, Suzanne Keatinge, CEO with Dóchas, Seamus O’Leary, Interim CEO with Misean Cara, Paul O’Brien, CEO with Plan International Ireland, Barbara Scettri, Development Programmes Manager with Plan International Ireland. Photo: Tara Finglas.

Sr Brigid also noted how the students living and learning together, and joining in peace and culture clubs, was building cultural understanding across ethnic and geographic fault lines, helping to build a more peaceful future for South Sudan.

Numerous members of the Joint Committee commented favourably on the outstanding work of Irish missionaries, as well as NGOs, in the education sector, and were pleased to hear of the particular emphasis on girls’ education during presentations. The Joint Committee chairman, Brendan Smith TD, underlined the consistent recognition the Joint Committee hears, in Ireland and overseas, of the pioneering work of missionaries in education and health, and that still being carried so well today by Irish and international missionaries, lay missionaries and Irish NGOs.

Misean Cara took the opportunity to recall and welcome the Joint Committee’s call for Government consideration of an increased in support for education in its 2018 Review of Irish Aid – and noted, in particular, the Committee’s specific call on Government to examine opportunities to increase funding to missionary bodies.

The other organisations to address the Joint Committee on Thursday were Plan International Ireland, Concern and Action Aid Ireland. Collectively, the members of the Dochas working group on education asked that the Committee consider and promote the case for Ireland:

  • Working with and supporting national governments to deliver quality education for all, and to strengthen educational equality;
  • Taking a lead in the EU in the promotion of quality education for all, especially girls, as a key strategy in fighting poverty and inequality. This should also include reaching the 0.7% ODA/GNI target, continuing to focus untied aid on low-income countries, and increasing targeted ODA commitments to quality education, to girls education, and to education in emergency situations;
  • Support the strengthening of public education systems first and deter support by some development actors of privatised for-profit education and risky, often expensive, opaque and anti-democratic Public-Private Partnerships; and
  • Ensure a specific focus on girls’ education in development and crises contexts, including deliberate measures to tackle often highly gendered barriers to access, completion and achievement within an inclusive, safe and empowering education system.