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Making Education More Accessible to Girls around the World

I have always been interested in women’s rights and the world’s cultures as long as I can remember. I never thought that a part of my life’s journey would be doing humanitarian work on behalf of grassroots educational leaders who are trying to make a difference with the educational system in their countries…but here I am. I have been helping a school overseas in Pakistan for almost 4 years now and it has gotten to the point that I had to start my own US based 501c3.

The work that I have done in Pakistan has really opened my eyes to the plight of the youth of this world. Half of the planet right now is under the age of 30… what are we doing now to help bring about a brighter future other than the one that we have now and that we are headed towards? Our current trajectory is not looking too bright. At the moment millions of children are out of school, there is world hunger, waste on epic levels, the oceans are warming, icebergs are melting, extreme weather, devastating fires, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, polarized politics, civil wars, millions of displaced refugees, human trafficking, species extinction and the list goes on and on.

What can I do to make a difference?

                                 A Little Goes a Long Way                             

Before I get into what can be done about education I want to discuss why it is so important and vital to our planet’s future and how grave of an issue it is. Helping provide education to the poorest and most vulnerable should be a social responsibility for us all. Extreme poverty feeds into human trafficking, child labor, exploitation of resources, child marriages, extremism and more. The reasons for poverty are many and the solutions to helping eradicate, or at least alleviate, poverty don’t seem to be as numerous.

As Mihai,Ţiţan & Manea (2015) say in their article “Education and Poverty”, education is a reducing risk element of high poverty which may prevent the occurrence of another generation being much poorer. Before meeting Sister Zeph and helping with her school in Pakistan I never thought I could make a difference until I found out how much a little goes a long way but in providing access to education you also have to deal with people’s current mindsets and beliefs. Mihai, et al (2015) stated that parents who are a part of these poorest communities are aware of the fact that their children getting an education would give them more opportunities than they would have otherwise….

but to the girl child it is not that simple….

The Vicious Cycle

In countries and communities around the world the girl child is undervalued and therefore swept under the rug in too many instances. According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Education First, National Academies Press, The World Bank, UNICEF, Global Monitoring Report and the United Nations Division globally over 65 million girls are not in school. In places like rural India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sub Sahara Africa and more, girls are seen as a financial burden to the family. Many are married off as soon as possible and sometimes killed to alleviate the burden of their existence.

There are many cultural reasons that girls are not in school around the world and I can attest to it personally after being to Pakistan twice. They are not seen as valuable because they make no money for the family, they add no monetary value. You make be asking, “Why can’t they just go get a job?” The truth is that this is a vicious cycle that is extremely difficult to break initially. This is because girls and women are expected to stay at home and not go out of the house as much as possible. If they get attacked or raped they bring dishonor and shame on the family.

A big reason they don’t go to school then is that the schools are not accessible to them. Put simply, the schools are too far and difficult to reach. Even when schools are close by, sometimes not having enough female teachers and facilities for girls is enough to keep them away. So the cycle continues. Girls don’t go to school so then they are not qualified or ready to take any opportunities that may come their way. The only other options for them then is to get married, be sold and worse… and when you look at it that way you can see that having access to education can literally save a girl’s life.

Perhaps Mihai, et al. (2015) put it best in “Education and Poverty”:

“The question that follows: In such circumstances, can a child born in poverty ever get out of this cycle? Even if sociologists and researchers have different approaches in this area, they came to a common conclusion: For the vast majority of children born in poverty the chance of success in education is lower, therefore results a higher probability of failure of education. Following this failure their chances of success as an adult are limited, which can make us think of social exclusion.”

So, basically without an education a child, and more especially a girl, is at best socially excluded from society her whole life or at worst killed.

Afghanistan: A Case Study

Considering this grim reality I did research on girl’s education and found a fascinating article and study by Burde & Linden (2013) called “Bringing Education to Afghan Girls: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Village-Based Schools”. They did a controlled and randomized study in Northwestern Rural Afghanistan to test if putting schools in village areas with extremely low enrollment rates among girls helped or made any change at all.

In 2007 only 37% of primary aged children attended school in Afghanistan. A big reason for this is that in certain rural areas only 29% of all families lived within 5 km of a primary school. Not only were the schools far, but as mentioned earlier, the ones that were more readily available lacked separate sanitation facilities, female teachers and gender segregated classrooms. In rural areas of Afghanistan, like in other countries, children are expected to help with household duties, farming and animal care (husbandry).

Different factors such as early marriage, lack of work opportunities, wage discrimination and the expectation that girls will join their husbands in their households after marriage are all deterrents.  Burde & Linden (2013) stated that people worried and said that even if more schools were created and made available in those areas that lack access it still would not help because of all these deterrents. Despite all of these challenges and social stigmas Burde & Linden (2013) went ahead with their controlled study experiment.

They tested their theories about placing schools in rural areas to test if school proximity would boost school participation in a program they called “The Village Based School Program”. They randomly selected 13 villages and then assessed their impact after one year of enrollment and the academic performance of over 1,490 primary school aged children. The results after one year were astounding.

Girls enrollment increased by 52% and the average test scores of all girls in all villages increased. The gains the girls made were large enough that the gender gap in enrollment was virtually eliminated. In conclusion the authors state that their controlled studies indicate that setting up village based schools where girl’s enrollment is normally low increases girls enrollment, even when it seems that the odds are stacked against them from the beginning.

India: Government Initiatives

In recent years the Indian government has made it more of a priority and the United Nations has made it one of their top Millennium Development Goals to establish Universal Education for girls. Again, a big reason that girls are not in school is because that parents prefer boys over girls and girls are not seen as valuable. Even in rural India the case is the same; girls don’t go to school because it is too far, expected to stay at home, get married and more. This also feeds in to girls not having enough opportunities to work and have a career but also the markets are not being exploited enough in favor of women to have opportunities to work.

Meller & Litschig  (2016) state in “Adapting the Supply of Education to the Needs of Girls” that studies have shown that when there is an increase of work opportunities that require more education the enrollment of girls in school increases. Another issue surrounding girls not going to school in rural India (and probably other areas of the world) is that the school curriculum was better adapted to boys than girls. India responded to the apparent need for change in their school system and between 2001-2002 and 2007-2008 India opened 10,000 more schools across 35 states divided into 593 districts further divided into 6,367 blocks.

The initiative was divided into two parts; providing funds for girls focused on service and infrastructure improvements to public schools at the advanced level. The funds were also used to add daycare centers for younger siblings, flexible timing of classes, remedial classes to retain more students, vocational training and more. All of these things were set up to help better facilitate schools for girls and their lives.

The after affects of these initiatives were studied and it was found that through these efforts enrollment between girls and boys became the same. School participation amongst girls increased by almost 10% across all states and districts and the gross enrollment for girls increased from 41.6% to 67.5% and from 52.5% to 71.4% for boys.

Conclusion

Even though the world has many issues and it can be difficult to see where to make a difference, providing education to girls is as vitally important as taking care of climate change. As you have read and the studies have shown, educating a girl can literally save her life and help eradicate poverty from future generations. Women are not being given opportunities all over the world because of this problem therefore their voices are not being heard.

By supporting grassroots leaders, like Sister Zeph, bring about change in their countries we are helping eradicate poverty. When you eradicate poverty through education you are providing hope to the world. This isn’t some “head in the clouds” type of hope either. The studies have shown that better access to education works. These young women and girls are staying out of child marriage, child labor, honor killings and more.

When girls are educated they become educated mothers who educate their children so that their children and their children’s children will not only have opportunities but also make opportunities for others in their surroundings. Educated girls become doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, business owners and more. When this happens economies are boosted, child labor is eradicated (because mothers can help take care of their children), human trafficking is reduced and hopefully eliminated because girls will not be in such vulnerable positions by not having any opportunities. When you educate girls as well as boys you will start to see world peace and a brighter future for all mankind.

Read more about Dana Burde here:

https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/faculty/Dana_Burde

Read more about Leigh L. Linden here:

http://www.leighlinden.com/

References:

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