Nearly 15 years after education became a guaranteed constitutional right for all children and youth in Brazil (Amendment No. 59), access to schools, permanence in schools and learning outcomes remain alarmingly unequal across the country.
Available data on learners illustrate the magnitude of existing racial and gender inequities within the country’s education system and the urgency for action. More than 70% of youth unenrolled in school are Black. While 3.6% of White students above 15 years old are illiterate, the rate is more than double (8.9%) for Black and brown students. We also know that access to and graduation from high school for Black students is still a decade behind when compared to the rates for White students.
These inequities are most pronounced among girls who are Black, Indigenous and Quilombola—populations that face the largest systemic barriers out of poverty. The recent global pandemic further magnified the crisis, closing schools for 40 weeks in 2020 alone, and forcing many girls to drop out to care for their families.
Malala Fund: Championing the Right to Education for Girls
One organization that is working to make a difference is the Malala Fund, a global nonprofit organization that is championing the right for all girls to have access to 12 years of free, safe and quality education. Since 2018, Malala Fund has been supporting the work of local activists and organizations in Brazil that work to address the barriers keeping girls from accessing education. Malala Fund also supports partners across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tanzania.
"One of the hurdles girls face aside from racism is the way we have been silenced. With this project, we’ve been able to have a voice again. I am Black, Quilombola and a future lawyer," shared 18-year old Ana Luiza do Nascimento Roque with Malala on her recent visit to Brazil.
Photo courtesy of Yasmin Velloso of Malala Fund
Global Network, Local-Focus: Communities at the Center
One of Malala Fund’s leading programmatic initiatives is the Education Champion Network, which invests in local education advocates working to address girls’ education in their communities and countries. The work these groups lead help challenge the policies and practices, which are often rooted in racism, keeping girls from learning. This hyper local approach is inspired by Malala’s personal journey, which began when she spoke out in her own community against the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education.
Young women and activists in Brazil and around the world are leading the charge for education and equality. Malala Fund amplifies and invests in their work. We know their expertise and solutions are key to dismantling the systemic barriers keeping girls out of school. From conducting research on gender bias to training girl activists and calling for education policy reform, the work supported through our partnership with Imaginable Futures is driving progress for a more equal future.”
Girls Empowering Girls—Meet: Aparecida Suelaine Carneiro of Geledés
Suelaine Carneiro is one of Brazil’s 11 Education Champions. Suelaine grew up in São Paulo, where she experienced discrimination firsthand in its education system. Today, as a Black feminist activist and coordinator of the Education Program at Geledés - Instituto da Mulher Negra, she is passionate about expanding access to education for Black girls.
The pandemic highlighted to very young Black girls what they used to find out in high school: that they were already behind and nobody in the educational system was committed to them. They occupy the worst indicators and have no connectivity or learning materials. We need a real commitment from society, from philanthropies, including the necessary budget, for the education of these girls.
Malala Fund is supporting the peer-to-peer support program that Suelaine heads. The program gives Black girls the tools they need to return and stay in school, while also encouraging their peers to do the same. In addition, Malala Fund is supporting her efforts to monitor education policies that impact Black students’ education, and to develop public policies that advance racial equity in education.
“Funding Plus Model” — A Unique Education Reform Model
Unique to Malala Fund is that it’s more than a grantmaker. Under its “funding plus” model, Malala Fund provides grants to its Champions like Suelaine; and couples this funding with capacity and networking building. This includes tailored support to increase organizational capacity, opportunities for media and public engagement, and connections to national, regional and global networks. Suelaine shared that Malala Fund’s ability to connect her to its wider network has been important. It has provided her organization greater international projection and visibility, and also helped her gain invaluable learnings about how activism is done around the world.
Geledés, where Suelaine works, has also been supported by Imaginable Futures; Read about our partnership with Geledés and why we believe supporting their leadership development program for Black leaders is a key factor to advancing the Black movement in Brazil.
Why We Invested in Malala Fund
Malala Fund is uniquely positioned to promote impact in Brazil in several ways: It is one of the few organizations in the ecosystem that works at the intersection of racial equity, gender equity and education. We’re excited to learn from its “funder-plus” model and the impact that the intersection of grantmaking and connecting communities for change can have. In addition, we are inspired by the organization’s decentralized and emergent approach—although Malala’s name and reputation can help elevate the work of its grantees and community partners, the decisions are led by local Brazilian activists that are proximate to its gender and racial issues. Furthermore, their highly participatory approach centers girls’ voices. Girls are at the forefront of and involved in their actions, strategic discussions and advocacy and policy work at local, national and international levels.
In addition to the Education Champion Network, and the organization’s advocacy and policy efforts, Malala Fund also runs a Girl Programme, focused on amplifying girls’ voices and giving them the tools and resources they need to advocate for their own education and start their own movement.
How Philanthropy Can Accelerate Progress for Girls
The stark reality of Black, Indigenous and Quilombola girls’ education in Brazil—made worse by the global pandemic in recent years—makes supporting their access to education both a racial and a gender issue. With learning losses at an all-time high, the issue is an urgent matter—one that philanthropy is uniquely positioned to have a pivotal impact.
To increase the visibility of Malala Fund’s unique work, in late May, our Imaginable Futures team hosted an event during Malala Yousafzai’s visit to Brazil to hear from Malala herself alongside Suelaine Carneiro, Benilda Brito and Andreia Martins — three of Malala Fund’s Education Champions in Brazil.
The event brought together grantmaking institutions and human rights funds to discuss how philanthropy can push for greater ethno-racial and gender equity in education. It was a deeply inspiring and meaningful gathering, where the Education Champions shared success stories and challenges they face daily. They also emphasized the crucial role of philanthropy in supporting local organizations to tackle systemic inequalities, calling for clear commitments and longer term partnerships to drive lasting change in Brazil's education.
We are hopeful as we see Malala Fund expanding its partnerships to provide even greater support to local activists and advocacy efforts. By joining forces, we can work towards our shared vision of a brighter future for all girls in Brazil.