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.
On International Women’s Day, let’s remember the challenges girls face in education.
What would your life be like with only five years of schooling? For many girls around the world, this is the most education they can expect and they are the lucky ones. Across Africa, 28 million girls between the ages of about 6 and 15 are not in school and many will never even set foot in a classroom.
In South Asia, a region where girls are now going to school in unprecedented numbers, Malala means many things to many people. To parents who send their daughters to school with difficulty, she validates a growing belief in power of girls’ education to liberate families from poverty. To schoolgirls in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal, she is an icon of victory and hope. And to governments and development partners, she represents the millions of girls who arrive in school every morning trusting that education will prepare them well for life, and also those so poor or disadvantaged that they do not enroll even at the primary level.
By educating girls, we reduce poverty, improve maternal and child health, prevent HIV and AIDS, and raise living standards for everyone. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of girls’ education, however, 37 million school-age girls around the world are not in class.
Today the U.K. government and UNICEF jointly hosted the first Girl Summit to mobilize efforts to end child, early, and forced marriage as well as female genital mutilation. According to a 2013 report by UNICEF, 30 million girls are at risk of suffering genital mutilation over the next decade. Recent reports by UNFPA and UNICEF suggest that more than one-third of girls are married before age 18.
The incidence of child marriage is dropping, but only slowly. In many countries, laws have been adopted to prevent marriage below 18 years of age, but they are often not well-enforced and more needs to be done. There is widespread consensus that child marriage violates the rights of girls, limits their school attainment, learning, and future earnings, and has negative impacts on their’ health and that of their children. Child marriage clearly contributes to poverty and limits economic growth. And yet the practice continues to be perceived mostly as a social issue, not an economic one.
What comes first to your mind when you think about girls’ education? There may be a good chance that you remember a particular girl you met who could not go to primary school. Or perhaps you will visualize one of those great pictures of smiling and studious girls attending primary school in a developing country thanks to a particular project or intervention.
Both pictures are correct, but they account for only a small part of the story.
When I heard the news last autumn that 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan had been shot simply for standing up for her right as a girl to get an education, I was horrified.
It also reminded me how lucky I was.
When I was offered a rare scholarship to study abroad, it wasn’t acceptable for me, as a young married Indonesian woman, to live apart from my husband. My mother laid out two options: Either he would join me, which meant giving up his job, or I had to decline the offer.
I know it was her way to advocate for my husband to support me, which he did without hesitation. We both went to the United States to complete our master’s degrees. I combined it with a doctorate in economics, and we had our first child, a daughter, while we both were graduate students.
This April marks the first anniversary of the World Bank’s Education Sector Strategy 2020, Learning for All: Investing in People’s Knowledge and Skills to Promote Development. Why Learning for All?
Although the gender gap in education has been decreasing over the past decade, many girls continue to lag behind their male counterparts in equal access to schooling and acquisition of basic skills such as literacy. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 17 million girls are still out of school; in South Asia, another 9.5 million are shut out.
What would equal educational opportunity mean for women and girls around the world?
The following piece is cross-posted at USAID's IMPACTblog, where World Bank Education Director Elizabeth King is a special guest blogger for International Women's Day.
This week we celebrate International Women’s Day and it’s as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the remarkable accomplishments toward achieving gender equality—and of the challenges that remain to ensuring that the 3.4 billion girls and women on our planet have the same chances as boys and men to lead healthy and satisfying lives.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “equal access to education, training, and science and technology,” is a powerful affirmation of the many benefits of educating girls, which come from improving women’s well-being, such as through better maternal health and greater economic empowerment.