Despite progress in recent years, girls continue to suffer severe disadvantage and exclusion in education systems throughout their lives. An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 34 million girls of lower secondary school age were not enrolled in school in 2011. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity: only two out of 35 countries. In the Central African Republic, Niger, Chad and Malawi, fewer than 1 in 200 girls go to university. Furthermore, recent estimates predict that only 62 out of 168 countries will achieve gender parity in secondary education by 2015.
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; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.
Girls’ education is essential to the achievement of quality learning relevant to the 21st century, including girls’ transition to and performance in secondary school and beyond. Adolescent girls that attend school delay marriage and childbearing, are less vulnerable to disease including HIV and AIDS, and acquire information and skills that lead to increased earning power. 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.
Barriers to girls’ education
While gender parity has improved, barriers and bottlenecks around gender disparities and discrimination remain in place, especially at the secondary school level and among the most marginalized children.
There are various barriers to girls’ education throughout the world, ranging from supply-side constraints to negative social norms. Some include school fees; strong cultural norms favouring boys’ education when a family has limited resources; inadequate sanitation facilities in schools such as lack of private and separate latrines; and negative classroom environments, where girls may face violence, exploitation or corporal punishment. Additionally, schools often lack sufficient numbers of female teachers.
Increasingly, 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 cutting/mutilation. Recent estimates show that one-third of girls in the developing world are married before age 18, and one-third of women in the developing world give birth before age 20. 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 fueled gender motivated attacks on schools.
When compounded by factors such as poverty, disability and locations, such barriers can become nearly insurmountable for young girls.
Article prepared by Klaus Cooper