In September 2000, the United Nations hosted a summit outlining the millennium goals to further promote world peace and universal equality. Among those goals were the desire to achieve universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality and female empowerment, and the reduction of child mortality. And yet, according to UNESCO, of the 774 million illiterate people in the world, two-thirds are still female. Almost a quarter of young woman aged 15-24 (116 million) in developing countries have never completed primary school. Countries like Somalia have rates as high as 95% of poor females who have never been to school (see graphic below).
Why is it so hard for young girls to gain access to schools?
Plan International has identified the six predominant reasons.
Cost of Education
When factoring in the cost of uniforms, textbooks, and bus fare, parents living in poverty can only afford to send one child to school. Given the choice between a boy and a girl, most parents choose the boy in the hopes that they will help raise the family’s economic status.
2. Distance from School
Some schools are a four to five hour walk away from the community. Due to the threat of female violence, many parents fear the worst when their daughters are alone outside for an extended period of time. According to Equality Now, at least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude or forced/bonded labor. The mere act of walking unattended to school could put a young girl at risk for kidnapping and sex trafficking.
Violence at school
The Because I am a Girl report in 2013, claims that nearly half of all sexual assaults in schools occur against girls under 16 years old…sometimes even as young as six. This tends to occur more so in countries where girls are discouraged from attending schools.
Societal norms often demand that females remain at home in order to keep the domestic life running smoothly. Society also praises women with domestic knowledge over women with academic knowledge. When men look for brides in third world countries, they prefer more submissive and less questioning women.
Young girls cannot take the time to be educated when there isn’t even enough money to feed them. Nearly ½ of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day and ¼ live in extreme poverty (meaning less than $1.25 a day).
High rates of early marriage and pregnancy.
Girls who are forced to marry young are often pulled out of school at a very early age to run the house and raise children, even though they are children themselves. The demand for young brides prevents these women from getting an education, since they are removed from schools at a young age.
The Positive Effects of Female Education
- Reduction of Maternal Deaths
According to UNESCO, “If all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds, saving 98,000 lives”. UNESCO also states “if all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives”.
- Decrease of High Risk Birth Rates
Around 60% fewer girls would become pregnant under 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia with secondary education. Additionally, the number of births in sub-Saharan Africa would change from 6.7 births to 5.8 for girls with primary education and 3.9 for women with secondary education.
- Lower Infant Mortality Rate
Higher education leads to later marriage and pregnancy, creating a more stable environment to have and raise a child. Scientific American has attributed female education as the single leading factor in reducing rate of death for children under the age of five.
Female education is a fundamental right that must be given to girls across the world. The social, economic, and health benefits alone should make it a high priority cause around the world. Support girls worldwide today. What are you doing to help break the cycle?