Gender Inequality in Education

Author Name: Maham S. Gillani      23 Jul 2020     Society

There are 774 million illiterate people in the world and alarmingly two-thirds of them are females. It indicates that majority of girls in many parts of the world are out of school. UNICEF reports that globally 132 million girls are out of school, including 34.3 of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67.4 million of upper-secondary school age. In conflict-ridden countries, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school as those living in non-conflict areas.

One of the underlying reasons for girls being marginalized and out of school is their gender. Poor families commonly favour boys when investing in education; therefore, poorest girls are also least likely to complete primary school. Ironically, research reveals that girls are more likely to be out of school than boys hailing from the same background.

Social, religious and traditional practices further perpetuate discrimination against girls and bar them from having an equal chance to acquire education. For instance, women and girls disproportionately share the burden of carrying out household chores and taking care of family members. Due to all these responsibilities unfairly levied upon them from a young age, girls often forego the prospect of attaining education.

Girls who do manage to go to school often drop out when they start to menstruate due to lack of adequate sanitation facilities in schools. For example, a joint report by an Indian philanthropy foundation and Bank of America titled ‘Dignity for Her’ noted that “girls tend to miss school six days a month on an average due to the inability to manage their periods at school. This eventually contributes to almost 23 per cent girls dropping out of school on reaching puberty, which critically undermines their potential as individuals and future workers.”

Child marriage is another reason that hinders girls from attaining education. According to a UN report, each year 15 million girls under the age of 18 become wives – this amounts to an average of 40,000 underage marriages per day. Marriage usually interrupts and ends girls’ education, since in traditional societies it is deemed more important for girls to tend to their husbands and in-laws than pursue education. This is evident from the fact that over 60% of child brides in developing countries have no formal education.

Additionally, child marriage means that girls have early and frequent pregnancies, contributing to higher drop-out rate of girls. Each year, nearly 16 million girls between the age of 15 and 19 give birth, but factors such as lack of support from family, inflexible school programmes, and discriminatory laws force them to stay at home and look after the children.

Therefore, it is no surprise that nearly one quarter of girls in developing countries do not attend school. This prevents them from reaching their full potential and developing necessary skills needed for embarking upon professional careers. As a direct corollary, women overwhelmingly depend on men in their family for the fulfillment of their economic needs. This dependence deprives women of agency over their body and life, which could also lead to depression, anxiety, fear, neurosis and obsessive behavior.

The merits of educating girls are undervalued and often overlooked. It needs to be underscored that educating girls not only benefits families and communities but also contributes towards increasing a country’s productivity and economic growth. The World Bank estimates that, in some developing nations, investing in girls’ education could lead to a 1% rise of a country’s GDP. On the flip side, some countries could lose more than $1 billion annually by failing to educate girls at the same level as boys. Furthermore, equal access to education also helps in preventing and reducing poverty, and ensuring a better quality of life for all.

Gender-gap in the provision of education to girls still remains glaringly wide; barely 66% of countries have been able to successfully achieve gender parity in primary education. The gap is greater at the secondary level: 45% of countries have achieved gender parity in lower secondary education, and 25% in upper secondary education. In order make sure that every girl goes to school some of the measures that could be taken include: monetary incentives for poor girls for attending school, banning child marriages, equipping schools with proper sanitation facilities, and last but not the least, running media campaigns popularizing and normalizing the idea of girls pursuing primary, secondary and even higher education.

 

~The writer is a researcher at Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS). This article was first published in Regional Times Newspaper. she can be reached at cass.thinker@gmail.com.