Picture this: your name is Fatuma, and you are a fourteen year old girl living in Todee, Liberia. Your brother is allowed to go to school and you aren’t, even though you desperately want to go to university and become a doctor. While American girls like me have the same dreams as Fatuma does, she simply does not have the resources to pursue her goals.
Even though Fatuma is a hypothetical example, her situation is very real. In the world today there are four million fewer girls attending primary school than boys.1 Though the global community has made significant strides to eliminate the gender gap in education, much more progress is needed to achieve educational equality.
According to the World Bank, 35 million girls do not attend primary school. Most of these girls live in developing countries.¹ Laws that discriminate against women and girls often play a role in the educational gender gap. In many developing countries, laws dictate that a larger portion of the family inheritance go to the male children, giving families like Fatuma’s a clear incentive to educate the boys rather than the girls.2
Additionally, Fatuma’s family is reluctant to spend money on her education, as they know that once she is married, she will live with her husband’s family. Any income that Fatuma’s education generates after her marriage will be enjoyed by her husband’s family. Thus, Fatuma’s family believes that because their son-in-law’s family will receive the return on their investment in Fatuma’s education, her schooling is not worth the expense.
Girls Without Voices: Invest In Me
Even if Fatuma’s family was willing to send her to school, it could be so costly that they could not afford it. School fees can consume up to 30% of a family’s income and do not include costs for parent-teacher associations and teacher salary supplements. Fatuma’s family also must provide uniforms and transportation to and from school. Lastly, if Fatuma went to school, she would not have enough time to work to help support her family, denying her family a valuable source of income. In many areas, girls and women are expected to perform the majority of domestic tasks so if Fatuma went to school, there would be no one to help cook, clean, and take care of siblings.3
Fortunately for Fatuma and girls like her around the world, many wonderful organizations are striving to provide equal opportunities for education. I am a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign that supports UN programs that benefit girls in developing countries. With the support of Girl Up, girls receive school supplies or scholarships to decrease the economic burden on their families. They are given a second chance to go to school in cases where they were forced to drop out or never attended in the first place. Most importantly, they receive leadership training that teaches them to speak up for themselves and for all girls everywhere. Thanks to Girl Up, girls around the world are given the chance to achieve their dreams. Other organizations making a difference through emphasizing education for girls education include She’s the First, the Girl Effect, CARE, and SHARE.
With the help of these amazing organizations and campaigns, girls are able to not only help themselves, but also their families and communities. Educated girls and women typically make 10-25% more in wages, and they reinvest 90% of that money back into their families. Educated women generally get married later and have fewer children.4 These children will often be healthier and more educated themselves than children of uneducated mothers. By educating girls, we are not only able to solve today’s problems, but we are able to inspire the next generation of leaders who will solve the problems of tomorrow.
- “Education – Girls’ Education.” The World Bank. The World Bank Group, 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
- Roudi-Fahimi, Farzaneh, and Valentine Moghadam. “Empowering Women, Developing Society“
- “Society: Female Education in the Middle East and North Africa.” Population Reference Bureau. Population Reference Bureau, Nov. 2003. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
- United States. Dept. of State. Educating Girls: What Works. IIP Digital. U.S. Dept. of State, 1 July 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
- Girleffect.org. The Girl Effect. the Girl Effect, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2012.