Our Theory of Change

Girls empowered is a key driver for sustainable development.

GIRLS Inspire is a Commonwealth of Learning (COL) project to provide schooling and skills training to some of the world’s most vulnerable and hard-to reach girls. Community organisations in Bangladesh, India, Mozambique, Pakistan and Tanzania are mobilised to leverage the power of open and distance learning (ODL) to end the cycle of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) and to address other barriers that prevent girls’ economic participation.

The problem

Child, early and forced marriage & its negative consequences for development.

Child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) is a widespread and harmful practice that threatens the lives and futures of young girls around the world. CEFM denies girls their right to childhood, disrupts their access to education and jeopardizes their health. CEFM also hinders development. When girls are not able to reach their full potential, everyone suffers—girls, their families, communities and countries.

(Global Affairs Canada, 2016)

More than 700 million women today were married as children, and more than 1 in 3 — or some 250 million — were married before 15 (UNICEF, 2014). South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) are the two regions with the highest rates of child marriage. In a survey of girls under the age of 20 in 24 countries, Bangladesh ranked third with a median age of 16.

(Joshi, 2013)

The consequences of child marriage for girls and societies are serious, wide-ranging and compel a variety of sectors to take action: child marriage denies a girl her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, exposes her to the risk of pregnancy and complications from childbirth, and increases her risk of contracting STIs, including HIV, as well as her risk of being a victim of violence and abuse.

(Government of Canada — UNICEF, 2014)

Furthermore, an estimated 63 million girls are not enrolled in primary and secondary schools. In developing countries, nearly one-quarter of all women aged 15-24 never complete primary school (Source: Global Partnership for Education). In addition to early marriages, girls face many other barriers that prevent them from attending school. Distance from schools has been a security issue for many countries and it is a very real barrier to girls in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In a recent Population Council study in Pakistan, it is suggested that if a middle school is within one kilometer, the predicted attendance is 65%; however if it is more than four kilometers away, the probability of attendance falls to 54% (Zaidi et al). Culturally, it is not desired that girls travel unaccompanied for long distances. The issue of distance from school is not only linked to security, but also to cultural and social values (Siddhu, 2011). Cost of schooling — both the direct cost and the opportunity costs families incur — is another barrier that many girls face.

The team

The team is an integral part to make change happen.

The GIRLS Inspire team consists of the Commonwealth of Learning project staff (Senior Advisor — Women & Girls, Project Coordinator and Project Assistant) and in-country partners who are all working together to create enabling conditions for the catalysing strategy to be effective.

The team connects people and organisations, identifies opportunities, enhances capacity, brings knowledge to the table, promotes learning, leverages resources, fosters public will and reduces barriers.

The catalysing strategy

Labour market, employment friendly and community oriented open schooling leads to better livelihood, changes in life-cycle behaviour and postponement of girls' early marriage. The catalysing strategy, therefore, integrates education & learning within the whole community, with its traditions and practices, to support girls' education & learning

Learning institutions

The Learning Institutions (service providers): To convince girls, community leaders and parents that girls can access education in a safe gender friendly environment, learning institutions need to be strengthened. Relevant and appropriate policies for improving technical skills will be put in place and staff at the institutions will be trained in the use and integration of technology. Conscious efforts will be made to form a strong network among the partners and other development agencies involved in gender sensitive skills training.

Learn more about the learning institutions, our in-country partners.


(while it is important to have national policies, the enforcement of it is happening within the communities). Conscious of the fact that CEFM is a deep-rooted problem, enforced by communities, it is imperative to mobilise communities, especially traditional and religious leaders, to appreciate the effects of child marriages on the girls, families and the community at large and to see the benefits of education for girls. Within the context of sustainable development, it is critical to raise awareness among the communities that child marriage has wide ranging negative consequences for development. Safe learning environments will be created and community leaders trained to assist with mobilising the communities on the benefits of education for girls as well as on the negative consequences of child marriage.

Women & Girls

Girls: At the center of this practice are the girls. They are caught up in this practice and can only get out if it, when they are educated about their social rights, their health, and when they gain skills and confidence to find employment. Activities under this strategy will focus on: the development of life skills and locally relevant technical skills courses for girls; the arrangement of internships for life skills courses and mechanisms to validate the technical courses by the labour market. Employment awareness and placement camps will be conducted and information on employment opportunities and financial support will be shared with the girls and women.


  • Employment opportunities are adequate to absorb the newly acquired skills capacity of women and girls.
  • Microfinance institutions are present in the area serving the communities and prepared to support the financial requests.
  • The girls and tutors embrace the use of technology to learn and communicate.
  • In countries where there are security concerns, the situations improve and stabilise and a safe learning environment is available.
  • Through training and employment women and girls will have the motivation and confidence to make informed decisions.
  • Communities are willing to let their girls be engaged in vocational skills training at cluster level or outside their city.
  • There is a positive transformation in communities from one which restricts women & girls' education and learning to one which supports women & girls' education and learning.

The outcomes

  1. Institutions improve institutional capacity to design and deliver quality gender sensitive skills-oriented learning programs for girls and women and increase their technical skills to leverage open and distance learning (ODL) which address the barriers girls and women experience, among local partners.
  2. Communities increase awareness on the benefits of girls' education, and the use of open, distance, and technology-based education and training, among parents and community leaders, as well as increased awareness of the negative consequences of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) on development.
  3. Girls increase their knowledge about their health and social rights and the negative consequences of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM), gain skills that are locally relevant and validated by the labour market, and have aspirations for employment.

The results

  1. Increased access to safe, quality and gender-sensitive open, distance and technology based learning opportunities for girls and women in the rural areas.
  2. Increased equitable participation in quality ODL by disadvantaged women and girls in rural areas of selected countries and reduced incidence of CEFM.
  3. Enhanced economic leadership and family decision making, including family planning, for disadvantaged women and girls.

The impact

Improved sustainable livelihoods for disadvantaged women and girls in priority communities in rural areas.

(It is envisaged that when women have improved livelihoods, they will be empowered to make their own choices regarding marriage, further education and child bearing).

Our vision

Enabling conditions for sustainable livelihoods for women & girls that will break the cycle of child, early and forced marriage.

Quality gender-sensitive education is a powerful strategy to end child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). Research shows that girls with school education have a significantly higher age of marriage compared to girls without school education. Open schooling, which has no age barrier, can provide a second chance to women and girls who want to complete their education. Through open schools, Technical and Vocational Education programs can make an important contribution to the creation of sustainable livelihoods for many young girls and women.

Through this initiative, the Commonwealth of Learning aims to contribute to break the cycle of CEFM and create an enabling environment for unmarried and already married girls to achieve the following results:

  1. enhanced economic leadership role in the family and community for 45,000 girls and women who will be able to take and exercise greater control over decisions that influence their lives, including getting married and having children at a time of their choice;
  2. increased equitable participation in quality open and distance learning (ODL) to girls and women in disadvantaged communities; and
  3. increased access to safe, quality and gender-sensitive Open, Distance and Technology-based learning opportunities for girls and women in rural communities of the selected countries.