Have You Ever?
Right now, you may be watching this video in a classroom. Even if you aren’t, you are still educating yourself and learning something new. Education should be an integral part of everyone’s life. As you learn different things, you better understand how the world works. You learn new skills that open new doors: you go from middle school to high school and even to college. Eventually, you use what you learn to find a job and support yourself and your family. However, this incredibly important experience is not accessible to everyone.
There are many reasons why someone might not be able to get an education, and some groups are far less likely to get an education than others. Women and girls experience gender discrimination when it comes to accessing education due to poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, and violence.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, estimates that there are 130 million girls globally aged 6-17 who are not in school. Women also constitute over two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population, or people who cannot read or write. Only 39% of rural girls get to attend secondary school. Though progress has been made towards gender equality in education, the problem is still prominent in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
Why It Happens
There are many barriers that prevent girls from obtaining an education. Because of cultural norms, many parents see their daughters as better suited for domestic roles. This leads them to underinvest in their education, especially when there are multiple children and they cannot afford to send all of them to school. Parents prioritize their sons’ education because they think it will lead to better job prospects, while girls are expected to stay home and help take care of other children.
Some parents are also concerned about their daughters’ safety on the way to school. During times of political instability, girls can be attacked by government groups or armed forces traveling to school and become victims of harassment, sexual violence, or abduction. This is especially true of girls living in war zones.
In places where child marriage is practiced, girls are often pulled out of school at a young age to be wed. This is especially true in Chad and Niger, where the rates of marriage among girls under 18 are 68% and 76%, respectively. Girls who are victims of sexual violence often drop out of school, further reinforcing the practice of child marriage. Another reason why girls leave school is pregnancy. School-aged girls who become pregnant face social stigma and often do not have the resources to balance childcare and school.
Schools can also fail to cater to a girl's basic needs. There may be limited access to sanitary facilities, which is an especially difficult problem for girls who menstruate. It can lead them to skip school for days or even drop out entirely. Girls with disabilities are also especially marginalized and only complete primary school at a rate of 41.7%.
Without an education, many women are disempowered. Lack of schooling can prevent them from getting jobs they need to be independent, which can leave them trapped in bad relationships or unable to sustain themselves and their families. Even though this issue is not globally spread, it is still important to address it. To truly achieve equality for women, we also have to focus on issues that predominantly affect disadvantaged women and women of color. These issues can be addressed through policies that address the barriers that women face in education. When women have access to education, poverty decreases and economic development is possible. Therefore, lack of access to education for women has an impact on all of us. We need to advocate for education access for all women around the world.