On 19 December, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. Since the introduction of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, much has been accomplished to improve the status of girls and women. However, many challenges still remain.
UNESCO reported in June 2016 that there are over 130 million girls out of school. This number is much higher than the 62 million that has been previously reported. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 75 per cent of girls start primary school but only 8 per cent finish secondary school.
One of the most important opportunities created by the International Day of the Girl Child is the chance to reflect on the importance of getting girls in school and keeping them there. Education programming that targets girls has far reaching effects for the community and nation at large. For example:
- An extra year of primary school education boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10–20 per cent. An extra year of secondary school adds 15–25 per cent.
- When a girl in the developing world receives seven years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.
- Women invest 90 per cent of their income in their households, as opposed to men’s 30-40 per cent, leading to healthier, better educated children and families.
- Girls’ education is associated with increased contraception use, seeking of prenatal care, less underage premarital sex and lower HIV/AIDS risks.
In short, an educated girl becomes a key to the development of families, communities and nations.
A multitude of barriers
In spite of the overwhelming evidence supporting the importance of educating girls, a number of barriers remain which hinder their access to quality education:
- Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. Early marriage often results in girls experiencing early pregnancy and dropping out of school.
- Challenges with menstrual hygiene management in schools means that, in many contexts, girls simply do not go to school when they are menstruating, missing significant instructional time each month.
- Many girls must travel unsafe distances to attend school.
- Girls experience violence at schools in the form of sexual harassment and abuse by teachers and peers, and are often pressured to engage in transactional sex for good grades.
- Girls who are affected by war and conflict are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than those not living in these same contexts. In conflict settings, girls’ schools have been targeted for deliberate destruction 3 times more than boys’ schools.
- When forced by poverty to choose who will attend school, families often prioritise boys over girls.
What’s more, girls are known to experience school differently than boys. Girls are often treated differently by teachers, and may be called on less than boys to answer questions. Attitudes of teachers and curriculum materials often perpetuate harmful gender norms thus disempowering young girls. In addition, the lack of female teachers or other role models can discourage girls from remaining in school.
What is World Vision doing to help girls learn?
World Vision’s education programmes address barriers to full and effective participation in learning for girls. We work across sectors to prevent gender based violence, create separate WASH facilities in schools, provide school feeding and nutrition services, train school leadership and parent committees on effective school management and encourage community participation in education. World Vision’s basic education programming strives to ensure that girls feel safe in school and are able to learn.
- Girls' education
- IGATE: Improving Girls' Access through Transforming Education
- Sanitary rooms help keep girls in school in Malawi
Lisa Easterbrooks is the Basic Education Specialist in the Education and Life Skills group at World Vision International. She has over 12 years of experience in international development with a focus on literacy, basic education and life skills programming. Lisa has a Master’s in Education from Boston University.