On the surface, especially in modern society, you might not immediately recognise gender inequality in schools. It would shock many to know that an estimated 129 million girls worldwide remain out of school as a result of multiple barriers to their education.1 To quote UNICEF, ‘gender equality in education benefits every child.2 Investing in girls’ education globally has the power to transform ‘communities, countries, and the entire world.’ It is the responsibility of all of us, whether educational professionals, parents, or simply human beings, to ensure that all our children achieve the best education. Therefore, the gender disparities in education are particularly concerning. In this blog post, we’ll look at gender equality in education and the impact this can have upon our society.
There are many barriers that young girls might face to accessing education.
For children living in poverty, there are numerous barriers towards accessing primary and secondary education, but studies have found that this is more so an issue for girls than boys, and here’s why…
- Cost – Not only is there the cost of the education itself, but also school supplies, uniforms, and transport. If parents have multiple children, it can become very costly very quickly. Those in poverty will often struggle to provide an education for this reason. The sad fact is that sometimes parents have to choose which children to send to school and research shows that boys are usually the chosen ones due to a variety of factors: their earning potential, reliance upon girls’ income and household support, and difficulties providing sanitary wear for the girls attending school.
- Child marriage – Child marriage is defined as any marriage of a person under the age of 18. Believe it or not, it happens all over the world, but more so in developing countries. Parents might choose to allow this for a number of reasons including, protecting children from stigmas associated with relationships, or financial hardships. As a result of the marriage, many females leave education.
- Menstruation – ‘Period poverty’ is a considerable barrier but also there can be a stigma attached to menstruation. Many girls miss a considerable portion of their education as a result of menstruation. Similarly, the lack of differentiated bathrooms and hygiene facilities can mean that girls must stay home to avoid being harassed or sexually assaulted.
- Household chores – This is pretty self-explanatory. Many families, particularly those in poverty, rely on the female family members to support with household chores. Current statistics show that girls spend 40% more time performing unpaid chores than the boys in their family.3
- Gender-based violence – This can take many forms, but is one of the key reasons girls stop attending education. Physical and sexual abuse, and bullying, all impact girls’ enrolment. Parents are also considerably less likely to let their daughters travel long distances to school as a result of this.
- Conflict and crisis – There are over 39 million girls growing up in countries affected by conflict or national disasters. As a result, they lack access to quality education as it is not a priority. It is worth noting, however, that refugee girls are half as likely to attend education as refugee boys.
- Trafficking – Young girls are often victims of traffickers due to the ability to exploit the girls for labour, marriage, and sexual abuse. Living in areas of the world afflicted by conflict means that girls are more likely to become the victims of trafficking, especially when travelling alone, which also becomes a barrier to their education.
Above is just an overview. For more information associated with each of these barriers, Global Citizen published an informative article: Barriers to Girls' Education Around the World.
What are the benefits of gender equality in education?
Other than the moral right of all children to achieve a quality education, there are many benefits of ensuring that education is gender-equitable. Investing in female education will…
- Increase their lifetime earnings.
- Increase national growth rates.
- Reduce child marriage rates.
- Reduce child mortality rates.
- Reduce maternal mortality.
- Reduce child stunting (an impairment of growth caused by poor nutrition, infection, and poor psychosocial stimulation).
- Positive ‘spill-over’ effect on boys who are at risk of becoming disengaged, victims of child labour or gang violence, or targeted for recruitment into armed forces.
The benefits of gender-equitable education are incredible, and achieved through ensuring that boys and girls achieve the same opportunities. This is easier said than done, of course, and many communities face difficult circumstances. The fight towards gender equality is not a new concept but one which we are still fighting towards.4 By providing women with the ability to live a life of financial freedom, to progress within various job markets, and to access the same roles and wages as men, we create a society that is equal, and one which will prosper. All of this begins with children and education. Only 66% of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education; 45% in lower secondary education, and only 25% in upper secondary education. It’s not simply getting young girls into school that is the issue, it’s keeping them there. Ensuring that they can access the education, and also that they are safe and cared for whilst there comes from removing the barriers they face. The articles linked here are a great place to start if you’re looking to further your knowledge about the gender gap in education: 21st Century Challenges and We Need Gender Equality in Education.
This article has outlined some of the barriers faced by many girls around the world but it barely scratches the surface.
This topic is both hugely emotive and important. Gender equality in education has become more of a priority in recent years, and rightly so, with many world leaders and think tanks pushing for increased access to education for girls and young women across the globe. The UN, UNESCO, and UNICEF (amongst so many others) are leading the charge towards a better and brighter future for women around the globe, citing both human rights and societal benefits as the reasoning for this. As professionals, we also have a right to ensure that within our learning environments we provide a gender-equitable education experience, leaving behind any biases or feelings, and simply doing what is best for the children we teach. Not only is it our moral obligation, but it is our way of contributing to a shift in society.5