Malala Fund Gulmakai Champions participate in CIES conference in San Francisco


Last month in San Francisco, seven of Malala Fund’s Gulmakai Champions attended the 63rd annual Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference to showcase their work and connect with education experts, activists and nonprofits from around the world.

Gulmakai Champions Zehra Arshad, Jyotsna Jha and Gamze Karadag Koc led a roundtable discussion on using research as a tool to advocate for policies that will help more girls go to school. Gamze shared how her organisation’s latest research on the psychosocial effects of war on refugee children helps teachers create better learning environments for Syrian refugees enrolled in Turkish public schools.

“As an education professional, attending the CIES conference was a great opportunity to improve my skills and network. Being a part of Gulmakai Network encouraged solidarity among the Champions presenting their work,” said Gamze about the experience.

Gulmakai Champions Areebah Shahid and Gamze Karadag Koc

A roundtable session led by Gulmakai Champions Reeta Kaushik, Zarmina S. and Areebah Shahid considered how finding allies in the religious community can help shift public opinions about girls’ education. Zarmina described how her organisation works with the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs in Afghanistan to get messages that promote girls’ secondary education included in prescribed sermon texts. Researchers and activists in the CIES audience provided feedback and shared how they might apply similar tactics in their own contexts.

“CIES was a great opportunity to connect with people from all over the world and it was an important space for exchanging experiences,” said Ana Paula Ferreira de Lima, a Gulmakai Champion from Brazil. She gave a presentation on indigenous land usage and how education and advocacy trainings are key to preparing indigenous girls to fight for their rights. “I felt challenged to achieve something new for myself and also very pleased to be able to present a little more about the reality of the Indigenous peoples in northeastern Brazil.”

Habiba Mohammed, a Gulmakai Champion from Nigeria, recently helped pass a law in Kaduna state that mandates free secondary education for girls. Now her focus is on making sure girls know their rights and can finish school. Habiba gave a presentation at CIES about this advocacy win and her Safe Space Club for Girls programme, which provides girls ages 12 to 18 with a space to learn advocacy, academic and life skills. Since her initiative began, local girls’ secondary school completion rates rose from 4% to 82%.

Connecting these activists to each other and to the tools, training and partners to spark social and systemic change is a pillar of Malala Fund’s Gulmakai Network. Throughout CIES, our Gulmakai Champions had the opportunity to do just that.

To learn more about the Gulmakai Network, visit