Convincing their child to go to school is a battle many parents face each morning in the U.S., but in Zambia, one of the world’s poorest countries, schoolgirls often find themselves trying to persuade their families to help them pay for school.
With 60 percent of the country living below the poverty line, the majority of Zambian families would rather take their children out of school to save money than invest in their child’s education. And if they do send them to school, they would likely invest in their son’s future over their daughter’s. This leaves young female dropouts vulnerable to getting pregnant or contracting HIV from older male partners whom they rely on financially, according to the study

With this in mind, a team of researchers from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania created a curriculum that teaches the girls how to negotiate with their parents for an education.

“It’s designed to teach girls how to communicate with others in a way that’s respectful and adheres to their cultural values, but still ensures that they’re making safe decisions,” Corinne Low, one of the program researchers, told TakePart. Low teaches economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
The curriculum is a part of a multiyear study that Low and her colleagues from Harvard, Kathleen McGinn and Nava Ashraf, developed to test whether negotiating skills could result in lower dropout rates, fewer pregnancies, and fewer cases of HIV among the girls.

“Our study is backed by research that states girls who stay in school are less likely to get pregnant,” said Low. “By providing these girls with negotiation training, we’re also giving them the ability to convince their partners to practice safe sex and say no to unwanted sexual advances.”
About 2,400 girls in their eighth-grade year, coming from 20 different schools in the Lusaka region, are participating in one of three two-week programs. The programs are divided into three sections: an after-school program focused on fun social activities, the importance of HIV prevention and schooling, and learning valuable negotiation skills.

“Once we see the long-term results of the project, our hope is that the curriculum will be taken up by the ministry of education and implemented in schools across the country,” said Low. “The curriculum is available for any organization that wants to teach negotiation to girls.”