Why aren't girls in schools?
Men still dominate women in every country in the world, resulting in widespread discrimination against women and girls. The impact of unequal power relations and discrimination is often felt most severely when material poverty exists, as this increases vulnerability. Inequality in society inevitably has an impact on the provision and content of education, as well as on the ability of girls to enter, and remain in, school. See the following headings for further research:
Cultural and social beliefs, attitudes and practices prevent girls from benefiting from educational opportunities to the same extent as boys. There is often a powerful economic and social rationale for investing in the education of sons rather than daughters, as daughters are perceived to less valuable once educated, and less likely to abide by the will of the father, brother or husband. In most countries, both the public and private sectors continue to be dominated by men, leading parents to ask themselves: why bother educating our girls if they will never make it anyway?
The low value attached to girls’ education reinforces early marriage and early pregnancy keeping girls and their children trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination. Too often marriage is seen as a higher priority than education, and the girls who are married (even where they have been forced into early marriages against their will), as well as the girls who are pregnant, are excluded from schools.
Another key issue around rights to and in education concerns the persisting violence against girls. Tragically, this issue is a daily reality for many girls around the world. The violence is not only a direct infringement of human rights as elucidated in the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but it also plays a role in denying girls the right to access education by being one of the major causes of drop-out among girls. Taken together with the ever-present scourge of corporal punishment and public shaming by school authorities and teachers, a cycle of absenteeism, low self–esteem and violence at home and in schools, this perpetuates those cycles of discrimination which education is supposed to challenge and break.
Schools fail to protect the basic rights and dignity of girls. Violence includes rape, sexual harassment, physical and psychological intimidation, teasing and threats. It may occur on the way to school or within the school itself, and is perpetuated by teachers, parents, persons of perceived authority and fellow students. Schools who also fail to provide adequate physical facilities, such as toilets and running water, cause inconvenience to boys, but spell an end to education for girls before education has even begun.
Statistics about the prevalence of violence against girls are hard to find: it remains under-reported, misunderstood and largely unaddressed, both because of the difficulty of researching the issue, and because of the widespread cultural negligence and betrayal of those who have little or no rights in the first place.
Funding in girls' education is an important issue. No country has yet succeeded in rescuing girls’ education from its continued status as the lowest budget priority and one of the least favoured areas in public policy.
“The direct costs of sending all children to school are usually too high for poor parents. While primary school tuition fees have now been abolished in many countries, nearly all developing countries still requires payment of various kinds; in many cases, these charges are far higher than direct tuition fees. They include: charges for books, stationery, exam fees, uniforms, contributions to ‘building funds, levies imposed by the school management committees, informal tips to teachers and travel costs” (Aikma &Unterhalter 2005, 39).
Household poverty and the need to prioritize reduce educational opportunity for girls because they are the first to suffer. The opportunity costs linked to sending girls to school are significant on poor households. Girls’ labour is frequently used to substitute for their mothers’, e.g. by caring for siblings. The loss of girls’ labour during school hours thus has a detrimental impact on such families' ability to raise their household income, either through food production or wage labour.
Girls are usually ‘needed at home’ and/or ‘need to earn money’. These are major reasons why poor girls drop out of school in most countries. Girls being employed as child labour, bearing the main burden of housework and taking on the role of caring for younger siblings, are impacting girls’ performance and attendance in schools, and resulting in physical and mental fatigue, absenteeism and poor performance. “Opportunity costs refer to labour time lost to the parent when the child goes to school. The opportunity costs are usually much higher for girls than for boys, since girls are expected to do more domestic work than boys” (Aikma &Unterhalter 2005, 39-40). While educating a boy is generally seen as a sound investment, sending a girl to school is frequently seen either as bringing no gain at all, or, worse, as an actual waste of resources.
Ministry of Education planners do not always take girls’ enrolment targets into consideration when determining how many new schools should be built, or the need to secure girls education. Such deceptions are allowed to flourish, either due to ignorance or simply to bad intentions, despite the fact that education is the one single investment that is most likely to break the cycle of poverty for the family and for society. The need to travel long distances to school is also one of the main barriers for girls, especially in countries where a cultural premium is placed on female seclusion. This is due to concerns for girls' safety and security, and consequently parents are usually unwilling to let their daughters walk long distances to school. (Aikma & Unterhalter 2005, 40) See further information about governments’ obligations.
The limited number of female teachers in both primary and secondary schools is a major constraint on girls' education. The presence of female teachers both makes schools more girl-friendly, and provides role models for girls.
It is also documented that there is an inseparable link between the well-being of mothers and the well-being of their children. Women who were educated in school frequently have fewer children, and are better able to provide health care and adequate nutrition for the children they do have. They are also more likely to send their children to school and keep them in a school system.
Despite most countries having age-old policies aimed at recruiting female teachers, so far none have managed to fill these quotas, “primarily because governments have consistently failed to guarantee the equal rights of women in teaching, failed to challenge cultural prejudice against female teachers, and often failed to develop effective incentives to encourage female teachers to work” in poor or rural areas.
ActionAid - Women's rights / Women and girls
Violence Against Girls in Schools
Stop violence against girls in school