Challenges Abound in Girls’ Access to Education

by Karen Boeker

"Despite universal recognition of the right to education for everyone, girls are still more likely than boys never to attend school," states a United Nations report on girls’ education.1

https://pixabay.com/de/photos/kinder-kleinkind-mädchen-schule-306607/The problem of not being able to provide a proper primary and secondary school education for all children still exists in the world. Despite the fact that it is a human right (Article 26, Universal Declaration of Human Rights3) and explicitly addressed by the UN as Sustainable Development Goal #4, the achievements for girls are still fewer than they are for boys. “There have been some notable successes. Between 2000 and 2015, the gender gap in literacy narrowed dramatically and the number of girls going to primary school rose significantly.”But the improvement in general doesn’t reflect the parts of the world that are not making as much progress. For example, only two of 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have equal numbers of girls and boys in school; and in southern and western Asia, 80% of out-of-school girls are unlikely ever to start school, compared to just 16% of boys. Many countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, continue to endure attacks on girls’ education and threats to close down schools.1

Girls are more likely to kept out of school for various reasons and under numerous conditions:

  • Gender stereotypes
  • Political reasons (legislation, policies, funding) 
  • Education infrastructure (schools aren’t a safe environment for girls, lack of or untrained teachers, lack of learning material)
  • Child marriage and early pregnancy
  • Gender-based violence
  • Living in poverty and/or (potential) conflict zones
  • Disability 
  • Hunger and/or malnutrition

To fight for girls’ education, organizations can address these problems in myriad ways: 

  • Make sure parents of girls and girls themselves know about girls’ right to education.1,2
  • Make sure to support as many initiatives as possible which are dedicated to improving schools, education and transport to and from school.1,2
  • Make sure to support teachers, teachers’ education and provide female teachers alongside their male colleagues. If you have gender equality among teachers, the likelihood of gender equality among students is higher.1,2
  • Make sure parents and the community are aware of gender equality. Revise the learning material accordingly.1,2
  • Make sure schools have facilities provided especially for girls (safe drinking water, separate toilets and resources for menstrual hygiene – with attention to disabled girls).1,2
  • Make sure married and/or pregnant girls can continue in school – and have access to childcare, breastfeeding facilities and counselling on school premises.1,2

Despite the obstacles and solutions as described, there is one main issue above all the others: as long as gender-based stereotypes are in the hearts and minds of parents and their communities, there is a long way to go before girls have equal access to schools. As long as girls and young women are mainly seen as wives, mothers and caregivers for their families and communities, there are many “practical issues” which keep girls out of schools. And therein lies the chance to improve girls’ access to primary and even more important, secondary school education. Parents and adults in general need to be informed as well, and they need to be aware that communities are benefitting from girls’ education.

Many communities and families around the globe face the following realities:

Girls are needed at home:

  • to fetch water;
  • to sell produce;
  • to take care of their siblings and 
  • to manage the household (because both parents have to work).

Girls can’t get to or enroll in school because:

  • the way is too far and unsafe;
  • schools don’t have proper sanitary conditions;
  • school uniforms and supplies are too expensive and 
  • there are not enough (or enough qualified) teachers.

Girls are prevented from going to school because:

  • the money spent on their education is perceived to be wasted for the family and community when the girl gets married;
  • parents and community elders don’t want girls to have a better education than they have received;
  • a higher education doesn’t seem to make sense when there are not enough job opportunities for girls after finishing their studies and
  • there’s a huge lack of understanding that families and communties benefit when girls are educated: educated girls =  a higher likelihood of overcoming poverty.

Funding a project like FAWCO’s first Target Project – “Tabitha: Cambodia, Wells for Clean Water” – meant not only that 1500 families in that region had access to clean water. As a secondary result, this project increased the chances for girls to attend school. To learn from a successful project like “Tabitha Wells,” we must look for opportunities to support easily understandable improvements. Case in point: the female headmaster who suggested providing bicycles for girls to give them the ability to  manage the way to school in a faster and more secure way.

 

Sources:

https://theirworld.org/news/why-girls-are-still-denied-equal-chance-of-education

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/10-barriers-to-education-around-the-world-2/

https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights

http://www.ungei.org/files/Gender-GEM-Report-2019-Building-bridges-for-gender-equality.pdf

http://www.ungei.org

https://sdg4education2030.org/the-goal

https://www.fawcofoundation.org/resources/26-ourprograms/our-programs/153-clean-water-page

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