Thursday, June 02, 2011

Breaking the Barriers to Girls’ Education in the Developing World

Shakila. A student at Taufiq Islamic Primary School, Uganda.
Whenever I have written about time I’ve spent in East Africa, I often talk about the fact that geography plays such a big role in how different my life is compared to someone there. What I hadn’t realised until much more recently is that not only does somebody’s physical location in the world play a massive part in the opportunities available to them, but so does their gender.

One question that begs to be asked is: why is it that girls in particular are less likely to get access to education in poorer countries?

According to Plan UK, women earn 30-60% of men’s earnings for similar jobs and women are more likely to be in low-paid employment, yet an extra year of secondary school boosts a girl’s eventual future wage by 15-25%. Many don't even have the opportunity to get this far.

There are obvious cultural and economic pressures dictating that boys, as historical breadwinners, should be pushed to the fore and afforded the greater opportunities to be educated.

After all, imagine you are family living on a five thousand Ugandan shillings a day. You will make a few thousand shillings for selling bananas you’ve been growing. You have two children; a boy and a girl. You can’t afford to send them both to school, but understand it would be good for one of them to go. Who do you choose? Someone who your culture dictates is traditionally the breadwinner? Or someone who your culture considers as being more of a homemaker? And remember, you still have to feed your family today.

Obviously I am generalising and using rural Uganda as a simplified example, but when I look into the eyes of Shakila, a young Ugandan girl surrounded by a couple of cheeky looking boys, I see a great sense of satisfaction and pride that she is able to hold her own as the only girl in her class. The lack of other female pupils in her form class is telling.

For every Shakila, how many girls are restricted from getting access to education by either financial or cultural restrictions? For every Shakila, glowing with pride and full of ambition for the future, how many girls are deprived of the opportunity to show the world their true potential? For every Shakila, breaking the stereotypes that dictate that all females must be homemakers, how many intelligent girls are gearing up for a life of basic domesticity?

Fighting for girls to get access to a proper education could ensure that more females become literate. Literacy can act to facilitate greater intelligence. Greater intelligence means a greater likelihood that girls will remain healthy as a result of being able to access and understand a wider pool of information. They would also be more likely to get married and have children later in life.

Cultural attitudes will take a lot longer to overcome, but in the meantime, humanity could be doing a whole lot more to ensure that girls are given the chance to access education. Plan UK are demanding that the British Government support girls in the developing world in order to get them a better deal and are asking for the public to pressure their local Members of Parliament to push for this.

Ultimately, an education for a girl could result in benefits, culturally, financially and educationally, for an entire community and for many future generations. Plan UK's projects are already having an impact, but now it is time for the wider global community to pitch in.

For more information about Plan UK's campaign 'Because I am a Girl' visit their website: www.plan-uk.org/what-we-do/campaigns/because-i-am-a-girl/ 

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