Blog post written by Lisa Öhman, intern at the Girl Child Platform
Many of us would agree that gender equality must begin in early ages, but why is this so important?
The Swedish School Inspection has now presented a report of their review of preschools’ work with equality. The purpose of this review was to see if girls and boys are given the same opportunities to try and develop abilities and interests without being limited by stereotypical gender roles. Research and investigations have previously shown that if there is a lack of a conscious equality work then stereotypical gender roles can be strengthened instead of being made visible and questioned. The conclusion of the review was that the Preschool policy on gender equality is not clear or defined, and can thus not be used effectively.
It is imperative that equality is worked with consciously in preschools through a girl perspective – by which we mean that girls have limited possibilities to live a life free from discrimination and the conviction that this must change – because it is in early ages where gender roles are created. Unequal treatment and discriminatory gender roles in school are recurrent themes in responses to our campaign GirlSmart (in Swedish: Tjejkunnig). Many girls express that there are expectations on girls and boys to act in stereotypical ways based on gender roles, specifically in the school environment. The responses we’ve gotten have often claimed that girls are expected to be “good girls” and to be quiet in school, while it is socially accepted that boys take up space and let themselves be heard. One girl also argued that boys and girls could be treated unequally in different ways:
(…) Sometimes the girls in a class can be taken so seriously so that the guys are not being taken seriously at all. Then there are schools that take guys more seriously than girls. I think that you need to find a limit for what is treating both sexes equally and what is overestimating women/men.
It is thus important to work consciously with equality from the beginning so that these types of gender roles are not strengthened but instead questioned. That there is conscious and consistent work for equality throughout education is important when creating an equal and safe climate in schools, communities and in society overall. This is how we create long term changes in the patriarchal society that we currently live in.
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.
According to the latest State of World Population by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), girls at the decisive age of 10 are the future of the world. At this age, girls are moving away from the world of childhood towards the world of adolescence and adulthood. In this season of life, it’s essential that girls be presented with opportunities, encouraged to dream big, given tools to pursue those dreams, and have access to education and health care.
For many girls around the world, this phase of life is when they begin to face the reality of limited choices in life compared to boys and when they become more vulnerable to discrimination and gender violence. This reality needs to be changed, not only for the good of these girls, but also for the good of their societies and the world as a whole.
Here are 4 reasons why investing in 10-year-old girls is good for the world:
1) Access to education is not only a human right, but it’s essential to helping girls achieve their full potential. The more years girls spend in school, the more opportunities they will have to get better jobs and earn higher wages. Several organizations and leaders, such as Michelle Obama, have recognized the positive and long-lasting impacts of providing girls a good education, not just for girls’ own lives, but for their families, communities, and even for the economy of their countries.
2) Access to sexual and reproductive health allows girls to receive crucial information about their health and sexuality, as well as providing them with important health tools such as vaccinations for HPV. Investing in sexual education for girls is essential as many young women simply lack information about contraceptives, STIs and pregnancy. Information about these very important topics can empower girls to make conscious choices about their lives and bodies. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among 10-19 year old girls, so investing on their health around this age means saving lives and preventing more infections in young girls.
3) No child marriage means that girls can stay in school longer and pursue their life dreams and goals. It means that they can live healthier lives, be less likely to be infected with an STI, and can be free to be kids. It also means that they will have the choice to start their own families when and if they choose to. Child marriage is a human rights violation, therefore eradicating it means opening many doors of possibilities to girls which they wouldn’t have as child brides.
4) Investing in young girls’ self-esteem helps to keep them encouraged to pursue sports, math, science, politics, or whatever they desire to pursue. The popular “Like a Girl” commercials by Always, have brought to attention how girls’ self-esteem tends to plummet significantly around puberty. Suicide has been found to be “the second-leading cause of death among adolescent girls”, which shows just how serious the issue of a girl’s self-esteem really is. Girls with high self-esteem will be more likely to pursue politics, to start a business, and to overcome the challenges they will inevitably face.
Investing in 10-year-old girls means investing in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include good health and well-being, quality education, and gender equality. In 2030, when these goals are hoped to be achieved, today’s 10-year-old girls will be in their mid-20s. The lives they’ll live then and what impact they’ll be able have in society depends on the opportunities they are given today. The main reason why investing in girls is so important is quite simple: when girls thrive, so does the rest of the world.
For more information, check out the UNFPA State of World Population 2016, and consider ways of investing in girls, such as donating to organizations like UNFPA and Girls’ Globe, and sharing information about the importance of investing in girls on social media.
“When we talk about improving women’s lives, education is an issue that comes up over and over again as an equalizer, because when women and girls have access to an education, they can accomplish anything.” – United State of Women
But do all forms of education create equity where gender disparities are greatest? Although we need to work toward improving women’s and girls’ access to education on all levels, real disparities deepen in secondary and higher education environments around the world. Significant progress has been made as 2/3 of developing nations have achieved gender parity when it comes to access to primary education. Despite significant progress made on girls’ school enrollment in the past decade, 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in developing countries. The situation is worst for the poorest rural girls in South and West Asia: only 13% complete lower secondary school.
If we agree with UNICEF that educating girls is “both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives,” then advocating for a higher output of female university graduates and an equal presence of women in STEM fields should ultimately be the goal. So, why are so few women completing secondary and higher education studies and why are so few represented in STEM fields?
Adolescent girls attending secondary school, who would continue on with higher education, face many disrupting economic and social demands. This includes everything from household responsibilities, child labor, child marriage, caring for children, gender-based violence, and FGM. Challenges of marital and family obligations in secondary education years truly hinders young women’s opportunities to continue education at universities or in STEM fields. Recent estimates show that 1/3 of girls in the developing world are married before 18 and 1/3 give birth before age 20. Yet higher and secondary education helps prevent these issues: if all girls received a secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would drop by 64% from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.
In countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, formal or written threats to close girls’ schools have fueled gender motivated school attacks. In similar places, millions of young women often face verbal, physical, and sexual harassment should they aspire to study at higher learning institutions. Even those that don’t face direct physical threats are often hindered by deep social stigmas associated with women pursuing higher education. Universities in Africa continue to be male-dominated and women, especially those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have a very low presence in these institutions.
Despite all these challenges, we know that secondary and higher education for women is:
Lifesaving – If all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives.
Healthy – If all women had a secondary education, 12 million children would be saved from stunting from malnutrition.
Safe – Almost 60% fewer girls would become pregnant under 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they all had a secondary education.
Profitable – Education narrows pay gaps between men and women. In Pakistan, women with a primary education earn only 51% what men earn, but with a secondary education, they earn 70% what men earn. In Jordan, women with a primary education earn 53% what men earn, but with a secondary education, they earn 67% what men earn. More money in the hands of female workers, especially through careers in higher paying STEM fields, boosts economies and would bolster GDPs.
In places like the United States and the EU – women are earning more secondary education certificates and college degrees than men. But despite progress, “women still occupy only 28% of STEM jobs and comprise just 37% of STEM college graduates” in the States. Numbers of women studying STEM fields peaked in early 2000s and now we have seen a decrease in many fields since 1991. For example, women made up 30% of US computer science bachelor degrees in 1991 and in 2011 only made up 17% of computer science graduates.
In the EU, there are more women in STEM fields, but that doesn’t mean we have actually been able to remove the disparity there – just as many men are entering those fields of study and the gender gap has remained constant.
“But what’s the point of girls overcoming so many barriers to get to school if they don’t learn anything?”
– Malala Yousafzai
If we are going to work hard for girls to be in school, then let’s work to assure that they are receiving a quality education that includes secondary and tertiary studies. Let’s be sure education allows girls to feel empowered to choose whatever fields most interest them and equips them to be active in all sectors to bring about change. Our pride in global efforts to reach girls with primary school needs to be overcome as we work to build women as leaders. Anything short of a full education, means disparities will still exist if women cannot be equipped to be considered equally educated and capable to lead alongside men.
“The problem of access lies at all levels, and perhaps is often ignored at the highest levels where we desperately need women doctors, scholars, engineers, scientists and thinkers.” – Muhammad H. Zaman
Without higher education, women will continue to be under-represented in leadership roles in society and decision making in all sectors. UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, who launched the HeForShe movement said, “A good university is like a tiny utopia – it’s a miniature model of how the whole of society could look.” Change starts in higher education and with it women can have equal roles in business meetings, political cabinets, and research and design firms.
Ultimately, pursuing higher education should never solely be about career. If it is only about career opportunities then we should clearly make vocational paths available to women and champion both sexes having equity in each. But if it is about opportunity, creativity, about including women in the processes of government, leadership, and any career field, then we need to champion higher education as a whole. Letting girls be smart, is a smart thing to do.
The percentages in the illustration refer to to following numbers and statistics:
If all girls had secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would fall by 64%, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.
Although good progress has been made on girls’ school enrollment in the past decade, in developing countries 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school. The situation for the poorest rural girls is dire: only 13% of the poorest rural adolescent girls in South and West Asia complete lower secondary school.
Almost 60% fewer girls would become pregnant under 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they all had a secondary education.
In the EU-28, of all university graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction-related studies (second most common types of degrees in the EU), only 3.9% are female.
Numbers of women in STEM fields peaked in early 2000s and now we have seen a decrease in every field since 1991. For example, women made up 30% of computer science bachelor degrees in 1991 and in 2011 only make up 17% of computer science graduates.