‘A girl who is educated is able to make choices. Choices like when to get married; have children; what kind of career she’d like to have.’ – Bonvitha from Tanzania. She is one of the women who resisted child marriage to get her education.
Despite progress in recent years, girls continue to suffer severe disadvantages and exclusion in education systems throughout their lives. An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity: only two out of 35 countries. Many countries, especially in the African continent have still not have reached gender parity in terms of education. Recent estimates show that one-third of girls in the developing world are married before age of 18 and one-third of women in the developing world give birth they turn 20. If all girls had secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would fall by 64 per cent, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.
Girls’ education is both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty. Educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will which results in fewer occurrences of dying during childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. They are also less vulnerable to contract diseases including HIV and AIDS. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a lasting effect of opportunity that influences everything, including our future generations.
Educated girls acquire information and skills that lead to increased earning power, thus generating an additional income to their households. Evidence shows that the return to a year of secondary education for girls correlates to a 25 per cent increase in wages later in life. Investing in women’s and girls’ education is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty.
Barriers to girls’ education
Women and girls experience multiple and intersecting inequalities. While gender parity has improved, barriers and drawbacks around gender disparities and discrimination remain in place. This is happening especially at the secondary school level and among the lower strata of society.
There are various barriers to girls’ education throughout the world, ranging from supply-side constraints to negative social norms. Some include school fees where a family is unable to afford quality education leading to cultural norms favouring boys’ education when they have limited resources. Inadequate sanitation facilities in schools such as lack of private and separate latrines is also a notable issue. It is also found that negative classroom environments, where girls may face violence, exploitation or corporal punishment deter them from attending school. Moreover, schools often lack sufficient numbers of female teachers which sometimes creates an intimidating environment for girls.
Adolescent girls also face economic and social demands that further disrupt their education, spanning from household obligations and child labour to child marriage, gender-based violence, and female genital mutilation.
Women are significantly under-represented in decision-making at all levels. Across much of the world, either by law or custom, women are still denied the right to own land or inherit property, obtain access to credit, attend school, earn income and progress in their profession free from job discrimination. Inadequate or discriminatory legislation and policies often inhibit girls’ equal access to quality education. In countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, formal or written threats to close girls’ schools or end classes for girls have fuelled gender-motivated attacks on schools.
A structural hurdle in the economic, social, political and environmental spheres produce and reinforce these inequalities. Obstacles to women’s economic and political empowerment and violence against women and girls are barriers to sustainable development and the achievement of human rights, gender equality, justice, and peace.
What can be done?
Empowerment means moving from enforced powerlessness to a position of power. Education is an essential means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to fully participate in the development process. Sustainable development is only possible when women and men enjoy equal opportunities to reach their potential.
Women have the potential to change their own economic status and that of their communities and countries in which they live yet usually women’s economic contributions are unrecognized, their work undervalued and their promise undernourished.
Unequal opportunities between women and men hamper women’s ability to lift themselves from poverty and secure improved options to improve their lives. Education is the most powerful instrument for changing women’s position in society. Investing, contributing and encouraging women around you in all walks of life can make a difference towards a well-developed and prosperous environment. Here are some platforms you can be a part of, to really create an impact in girls’ education. It is up to us to make a trenchant change.
‘Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.’ Malala Yousafzai