There is absolutely no doubt that education is one of the most important things in an individual’s life. Education is the gateway to the future. It is the stepping stone by which we attain our goal in life. It lays the foundation of our life and affects everything we do later on. Without education, we would not be able to progress much in life nor be able to achieve all that we wish to.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to education. But is everyone able to exercise this right? Is every child in our world, in our society, going to school?
The simple and expected answer is – no.
When you look at the figures, there is a glaring difference between the number of girls and boys in school. 129 million girls are out of school around the world, including 32 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67 million of upper-secondary school age.
Girl’s education is extremely important, especially considering that 49.6% of today’s world population is female. Girls with education can go on to become educated and informed mothers, who are able to impart their wisdom to future generations. And it is not only the matter of mothers, but of doctors and scientists and engineers, architects and designers. Better educated women are more knowledgeable about nutrition and healthcare, marry at a later age, have fewer children and raise them to be healthy individuals. They are likely to earn high incomes, and help to improve the economic situation of their families, communities and countries. Women have the potential to contribute a lot to the development of the world and yet we hold them back.
Poverty is the pivotal factor holding girls back from attending school. Families with poor financial conditions cannot bear the cost of school materials like uniforms and books and thus choose not to send their children to school. In the case of multiple children, they often choose to invest in the boys’ education while the girls remain at home, engaged in domestic work and looking after the family.
A huge part of this stems from sex discrimination. Girls are often seen as only wives and mothers, and are stopped from pursuing education, especially in rural areas. Teachers can also play a role by instilling stereotypical and negative thoughts in girls, and by not giving them the same attention as the boys.
Even if the girls fight for their rights and manage to attend schools, they are subjected to gender-based violence, which emerge from the power inequalities between men and women. It can also be the result of terrorist or radical groups with conservative ideologies attempting to prevent girls from attending school. Fellow male classmates and teachers can also be perpetrators. Girls facing harassment – both physical and mental – are often driven to their breaking point and forced to stop attending school. This also detrimentally affects their mental and physical health.
Furthermore, some girls are married off at extremely young ages, and are forced to drop out of school. They are pressurized to start families and look after the household before the age of eighteen. They are deprived of childhood experiences and the innocence of youth is stolen from them as they are forced to bear domestic violence. They are faced with distressing states of finance and health, and this affects the lives of their children, eventually leading to a vicious cycle and increasing the number of uneducated girls and youth. In fact, reports have shown that more than 41,000 girls under the age of 18 are married off every day.
If a nation aims to reach great heights in any field, it is crucial that they seek to improve the education system for girls. Building better infrastructure and providing safety for girls in schools can make a huge difference. But the secret to improving girl’s education is education itself. Spreading awareness amongst families and teachers, and encouraging them to let go of social stigmas and send their daughters to school may be a huge task, but it can have a huge impact.
Girls are the future of a country; the very soul of a nation. It is imperative that we push them to greater heights, motivate them, so that our world progresses as one. It could be that one of those young girls, slaving away in a desolated mud-brick house when she is supposed to be in school, is the one that has the potential to make historic breakthroughs in science or math or technology. And if those girls are denied their right to education, it is the whole world that stands to lose everything. That is why it is important to keep this African proverb in mind – when you educate a man, you educate an individual, but when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.