The importance of educating a girl child
Jul 11, 2011
Reading time: 9 minutes (978 words)
When you educate a girl in Africa, everything changes. She’ll be three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS, earn 25 percent more income and have a smaller, healthier family.
Gender inequality in education is extreme. Girls are less likely to access school, to remain in school or to achieve in education. Education helps men and women claim their rights and realize their potential in the economic, political and social arenas. It is also the single most powerful way to lift people out of poverty. Education plays a particularly important role as a foundation for girls’ development towards adult life. It should be an intrinsic part of any strategy to address the gender-based discrimination against women and girls that remains prevalent in many societies.
Everybody has the right to education, which has been recognised since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The right to free and compulsory primary education, without discrimination and of good quality, has been reaffirmed in all major international human rights conventions. Despite this, many of these same instruments encourage, but do not guarantee, post-primary education. These rights have been further elaborated to address issues like quality and equity, moving forward the issue of what the right to education means and exploring how it can be achieved.
Cultural and traditional values stand between girls and their prospects for education. The achievement of girls’ right to education can address some of societies’ deeply rooted inequalities, which condemn millions of girls to a life without quality education and, therefore, also all too often to a life of missed opportunities. One reason for denying girls and women their right to an education is rarely articulated by those in charge: that is their fear of the power that girls will have through education. There is still some resistance to the idea that girls and women can be trusted with education. Education is also seen in some societies as a fear of change and now with globalization, the fear becomes even greater - fear to lose the cultural identity, fear of moving towards the unknown or the unwanted.
Basic education provides girls and women with an understanding of basic health, nutrition and family planning, giving them choices and the power to decide over their own lives and bodies. Women's education leads directly to better reproductive health, improved family health, economic growth, for the family and for society, as well as lower rates of child mortality and malnutrition. It is also key in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Educating girls and women is an important step in overcoming poverty. The focus on poverty reduction makes the right to education to be a powerful tool in making a change in the lives of girls and women. Poverty has been universally affirmed as a key obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights, and it has a visible gender profile. The main reason for this is the fact that poverty results from violations of human rights, including right to education, which disproportionately affect girls and women, trapping them in a vicious downward circle of denied rights that in turn leads to exclusion from the labor market and marginalization into the informal sector or unpaid work. This perpetuates and increases women’s poverty.
So why is it therefore important to educate girls and women? Because…….
By improving educational opportunities for girls and women, they develop skills that allow them to make decisions and influence community change in key areas, like population growth, HIV and AIDS, peace and security and the widening gap between the rich and poor.
Girls who complete primary and secondary education tend to marry later, have smaller families and earn significantly higher wages. Girls’ education has been posited as a vaccine against HIV/AIDS; analysis in Zambia of non-educated and educated women show a substantial difference in infection rates. Educating a girl changes her destiny, as well as those of her future children and ensures that she can contribute to the economic life of her community.
Higher rates of high school and university education among women, particularly in developing countries, have helped them make inroads to professional careers and better-paying salaries and wages. Education increases a woman's and her partner and the family's level of health and health awareness. It can increase the level of resources available to women who divorce or are in a situation of domestic violence. It has been shown to increase women's communication with their partners and their employers and to improve rates of civic participation such as voting or holding of office.
Educated women are more likely to stand up for themselves, their rights and spend more time educating their own children and more likely to send both their female and male children to school. She is more likely to initiate action for social change and better able to participate in decision-making and contribute to community or national politics. Educated women earn money “create more social change through organized and collective actions” (Moulton, J. 1997).
Educational attainment correlates to increased agricultural productivity. It is reported that “increased education for women would yield exceptional returns in terms of world food security. A World Bank study concluded that if women received the same amount of education as men, farm yields would rise by between seven and 22%. Increasing women’s primary schooling alone could increase agricultural output by 24%”. Wow! Imagine that!
Education for women could also be highly effective in reducing the incidence of trafficking girls to brothels; increasing overall environmental awareness; and, reducing the likelihood of terrorism.
Regrettably, there are still 24.4 million girls out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa. Given the high percentage of girls excluded from education, there is definitely a case for increasing and facilitating access to education for girls as an antidote against the current situation.
Janet Mbene (firstname.lastname@example.org)