Globally, more than 700 million women alive today married before the age of 18. Each year, 15 million additional girls are married as children, the vast majority of them in developing countries. Child marriage is widely considered a violation of human rights, and it is also a major impediment to gender equality. It profoundly affects the opportunities not only of child brides, but also of their children. And, as a study we issued this week concludes, it has significant economic implications as well.
UNESCO estimates that barely 30 percent of Africa’s women pursue research in science and engineering fields. I am inspired by one of them – a woman who is among the few female PhDs in the West African nation of Togo, and is helping more girls in her country enroll into science and technology fields.
"In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It's their normal life. But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education... it's like a precious gift. It's like a diamond…"
The voices of children in Time for School: 2003 – 2016, a documentary following five youth over 12 years in India, Brazil, Kenya, Afghanistan, and Benin as they strive to attain a basic education, is clear. The stories of these young people remind us that achieving learning for all is not only a global commitment but also a deeply personal struggle faced by millions of children around the world.
While Hillary Clinton is cracking the glass ceiling, if not yet shattering it entirely, in the United States by becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major political party, recent analysis on U.S. women in the workforce presents a more sobering finding.
I asked Martha, a Form Four (Grade 12) student at a secondary school in southern Malawi, if she considered herself a role model. Completing her education hasn’t been easy for Martha – being sent home for weeks at a time when her family struggled with school fees, trying to avoid the distractions of boys, and staying on top of challenging coursework are among the challenges she deals with.
“My elder sisters could not get an education because at that time, there was no primary school in the village. For me it was difficult too, my school had no facilities, no water, toilet or rooms for 80 girls. Had this school not been built I would be out of school.” These are the words of Zarghony, the youngest child in a family of six and a beneficiary of the Promoting Girls’ Education in Balochistan Project (PGEB). Zarghony was once among the 62 million girls around the world who are out of school but now she benefits from a safe and secure learning environment.
If you want to provide more opportunities to girls, you shouldn’t only provide them with an education – you also need to change perceptions of gender roles so that, when they grow up, girls can (among other things) fully contribute to the household’s livelihood. To achieve this, combining education with interventions for entrepreneurship and employment is the right way to go. This messages emerges not only from impact evaluations, but also from experiences on the ground and case studies of non-governmental organizations.
Child marriage. It’s a phrase that was barely uttered or understood in the global development community even just 10 years ago. Yet over this past decade, some 140 million girls, most living in the developing world, have married before the age of 18, forcing them to drop out of school and become pregnant before their bodies and minds are ready. Child marriage may also lead to increased intimate partner violence, restricted mobility, limited access to families or friends, and limited ability to engage in their community’s and country’s development.
A couple of months ago, I visited Chandra Shekhar Azad College in Sehore, about an hour’s drive from Bhopal, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. It was a short visit, but long enough to see that college students the world over have similar dreams and see higher education as a way to realize them.