Written by: Rose Frullani-Bacon
Poverty is far from a 21st century issue. People around the world have been struggling to make ends meet for centuries. All the while, leaders, governments, faith groups, non-profits and other organizations have been tackling poverty head on. Today, many argue that education is the closest thing that exists to a silver bullet for breaking the cycle of poverty. Not only can a formal education provide people with the tools they need to attain financial stability, it can also empower those who break out of poverty to “pay it forward” and give back to their communities by becoming teachers, advocates and leaders.
Though many non-profits and foundations have made it their mission to ensure that people in developing countries have access to quality education, there still remains an incredible and unacceptable gender gap in opportunities to go to school and ability to stay in school. Globally, a third of countries have more boys enrolled in primary school than girls.
In some parts of the world, gender equity gaps in education are vast. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics report, Left Behind, demonstrates glaring disparities in girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNESCO, 17 million girls, aged 6-11, in this part of the world are not in school. In some countries, the prospects of getting any formal education are even dimmer. More than 90% of girls in Niger and Mali will most likely never get the chance to enter a classroom.
Though much work needs to be done in ensuring that all children in these countries receive an education, African boys are still much more likely to go to school and stay in school compared to their female counterparts. UNESCO’s gender parity index shows that across the continent, there are more boys enrolled in primary school than girls. Special attention needs to be given to education for girls, particularly because of certain societal barriers that disproportionately impact girls, such as fear of sexual harassment and child marriage.
Involving families and communities in securing girls’ education is essential to closing the education equity gap. That’s why organizations like Camfed are working in communities across sub-Saharan Africa to ensure that girls are educated as a means to break the cycle of poverty. Camfed knows that when African girls are educated, they earn 25% more income and their programs in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi have supported more than a million girls to attend primary and secondary school. The foundation of their work is their philosophy – when we educate girls, they become leaders in their communities and influence systemic change on a global scale.
Though access to quality education and women’s empowerment is crucial to achieving equity, it cannot stand alone. We need to continue to work to break down the societal barriers of discrimination and oppression of women that have existed since the beginning of time. Only then will we be able to achieve true equity in education for men and women across the globe.
Illustration by: Elina Tuomi