Educating and empowering young boys and girls is extremely important for the growth of a country; it brings political, economic and health advantages. It is very important that steps are taken to help all children access their right to an education. Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are committed to providing equal education for boys and girls. In spite of the formal, legal rights created, there are many reasons why girls can’t access education in the same way that boys can.
WHY IS EQUAL EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
When children receive an education, they are able to achieve their full potential and help further society. Educated young girls go on to become successful women. These women contribute to the economy, ensure their family is healthy and hygienic, and become active political leaders. An example is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia (and the first female head of state in Africa) who has led the fight against Ebola. Another example is Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi. Within weeks of beginning her presidency she repaired Malawi’s international relations problems and secured a $350 energy grant from the US. Educating women allows the talents, intelligence, and skills of half the population to be used to further that country’s development.
WHY DO WOMEN CURRENTLY NOT HAVE EQUAL ACCESS TO EDUCATION?
In spite of the existing laws providing girls with the right to an education, there are number of reasons why girls either aren’t enrolled in school, or drop out of school early. One reason is that some families can’t afford to educate their children. Even if they can, they sometimes prioritize educating the boys because they are traditionally viewed as breadwinners, while girls are often expected to carry out household or child-care duties. As well as financial reasons, another factor that means girls sometimes drop out of school early is a cultural pressure to marry young. Sometimes girls drop out of school because it can be an unpleasant environment for them. This may be because of sexual abuse from other pupils or even teachers. Or because there often aren’t separate toilet facilities for girls which is a deterrent once they start menstruating. A mixture of cultural, financial, and health reasons means that often girls end up leaving school before they receive a meaningful education.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
While girls not accessing education is problematic there is plenty of hope in this area. There are a lot of things that can be done, and in many places are already being done to help with this problem. One way is to alter perceptions on gender roles and to encourage parents to send their girls to school as well as the boys. For example in Benin the gap between the genders with regards to access to education narrowed from 32% to 22%. This is partly because they implemented policies that sensitized parents through the use of the media. Along with this increase in female education, Benin has experienced economic growth over recent years, with 7.2% growth in 2013 and 6.4% growth in 2014. Another way to increase equal access to education is to reduce school fees, a policy also implemented by Benin.
It is also important to make use of the charities and NGOs which help provide financial aid to pay for girls’ school fees. An example of such an organisation is Camfed, an international non-profit which works with communities to remove barriers to young girls’ educations. Another way to increase female access to education is to increase access to and information on menstrual health hygiene. This would make school more accessible and pleasant for girls when they are menstruating and would remove stigma from the issue. Additionally, as one of the reasons why many girls drop out of school is sexual abuse, a good way to counter this problem is to make use of the organisations in place to help victims of this kind. Childline Kenya, for example, offers a free 24 hour helpline to support victims of child abuse, while CRADLE (Child Rights Advisory, Documentation and Legal Centre) offers legal services for children and campaigns for children’s rights.
Educating young people is extremely important for the development not only of individuals, but for the community as a whole. Both girls and boys can make a meaningful impact on society if they are able to fulfil their potential, and there are many steps that can and should be taken to help them do this.