Guest blog by Sharon Goulds, Project Manager of the Because I am a Girl Report, and Anita Reilly, Education Advisor, Plan UK.
“Girls meet a lot of challenges and because I am a girl I would like to fight for my rights and girls rights too. We are also human beings who need to be respected.”
Elizabeth, secondary-school student from Malawi.
Published by Plan International on 11 October , this year’s State of the World’s Girls report focuses on girls’ education and is particularly concerned with what happens to girls when they reach adolescence. It highlights that behind the success of global parity in primary education enrolment figures lies a crisis in the quality of learning. As the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report finds, 250 million children of primary school age cannot read or count whether they are in school or not. As such, enrolment figures tell us nothing about real access to education or the quality of what is being taught, or learnt. The statistics mask national level gaps and one of the key groups missing out are adolescent girls, particularly if they are poor, live in isolated rural areas or are marginalised by ethnicity, language or disability. This was highlighted in the World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE) produced by the EFA Global Monitoring Report.
Every girl has the right to education, but according to the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, there were 39 million 11-15 year-old girls out of school in 2008. Plan’s report this year explores the lives of these girls and investigates the push and pull factors keeping them out of school. 14 year old Talent from Zimbabwe has not been to school since 2009. She is the head of her family. She works all day in the fields to feed her brothers and sisters and struggles to make ends meet. Her 7 year old brother helps her with household chores. She dreams of the day she may be able to return to school, “To pass all my subjects and have a better job and a better life”. 13 year old Munni from Uttar Pradesh is kept at home by her family, “Nobody at home supports my studies…If others also did housework then I would have time to study”.
Once she reaches adolescence, a daughter’s domestic and reproductive role takes precedence over her right to education and in many families girls, who may sometimes have only started school at 10, can be pulled out as they reach puberty, 2 or 3 years later. Notions of protecting girls, the burden of household chores and early marriage means that, in adolescence, when for boys life may be opening out, for many girls it does the opposite, confining them to a life in the domestic sphere. When poor parents make a decision about which child is more likely to gain from education, which is a long-term investment, a girl’s immediate usefulness as a caretaker, her worth as a bride, or her contribution through domestic or other labour can be deemed more valuable than an uncertain and unproven return from her education in the future.
The 2012 ‘ Because I am a Girl’ Report is calling for nine years of quality education for all as the key to both protecting girls’ rights to education and to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty, enabling girls and young woman to play a significant role in their communities. The link between girls´ education, particularly secondary education, is inextricably linked with lower fertility rates, smaller families, improved maternal and child health, reduced risk of HIV infection, and improved economic and social status. A good education can give girls the skills and competencies they need to choose their own career path, have healthy positive relationships with their partners and friends, and enable them to make positive decisions about their bodies and their health. Furthermore, a quality lower secondary education, can equip girls with skills and knowledge needed to find secure and decent work, issues that are also addressed in the forthcoming EFA Global Monitoring Report.
Plan’s report also highlights the barriers to girls’ learning within the classroom: inadequately trained and sometimes prejudiced teachers, school curricula that perpetuate stereotypes and disempowers girls, schools too far away from home which are seen as potentially risky for a girl and her reputation, violence and sexual abuse in and around school and the low expectations of girls which affects their own aspirations, expectations and participation.
‘I think boys are confident enough and they can ask questions in the class. This gives teachers the idea that they are understanding the topic and boys are intelligent We girls also want to ask questions, but we are shy and cannot ask questions. Thus, we become only listeners in the class.’ Girl, Pakistan
Building on the increase in enrolment rates and the attention the MDG targets have focused on girls’ education, the challenge now is to make sure that all girls, however poor, isolated or disadvantaged, are able to attend school on a regular basis and gain a good quality education that equips them for life. If education is to be truly empowering for girls, what they learn in school must not only teach literacy and numeracy but enable both girls and boys to challenge the societies they live in and to become equal and active citizens.
Plan and the Because I am A Girl Campaign welcome the Education First initiative which the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has just announced. In order to promote their shared ambitions for girls’ education the BIAAG Report 2012 calls on:
- Any post MDG frameworks to maintain a strong focus on education, but broaden with a focus on the completion of nine years of quality education for all.
- National governments to undertake a gender review of education sector plans, using a girl-friendly school scorecard, and support action to address the gaps identified.
- Finally, improved funding mechanisms are key and at a time of global economic crisis it is vital that education, continuing to secondary level, is funded by national governments, donors and the private sector. Anything else would be a false economy as education is crucial to economic growth.