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Girls' education plays a large part in global development

Girls are an important resource for global development, but those living in developing countries do not reach their full potential because they do not receive a proper education.

Maritza Ascencios, from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Media Center, told MediaGlobal, “Educating girls is a surefire way to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutritional status and health, reduce poverty, and wipe out HIV/AIDS and other diseases.”

Presently, girls are under-represented in school enrollment and attendance in developing countries.

According to the World Bank, girls currently represent 48 percent of primary school enrollment and boys represent 52 percent. Even though this gender gap has decreased in the last few decades, girls still account for 55 percent of all out-of-school children—meaning that, on average, for every 100 boys out-of-school, there are 122 girls. In many developing countries, the disparity is even greater. For example, in Yemen the statistic is 270 girls for every 100 boys and in India it is 426 girls for every 100 boys, according to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The reasons that girls are kept away from school are varied.

Poverty is a major contributor. If a family has limited funds and has to be selective on whom to send to school, more often than not, it is going to be the boys.

Adverse cultural practices also contribute to this occurrence, because girls are more likely to stay home and be “taught” to be housewives. Primary education for them is not always seen as necessary.

Lastly, if anyone is sick in the family or chores needs to be done at home, it is more likely that the girls will be the ones to stay away from school and assist with whatever tasks need to be done.

“Girls and women are often shackled by gender roles and outdated traditions, with male privilege and entitlement ensuring that when educational opportunities are limited, boys will take available classroom space. Gender roles and traditions that keep girls from school contribute an additional barrier to universal education: illiterate mothers,” continues Ascencios, “When we ensure that children have access to a rights-based, quality education that is rooted in gender equality, we create a ripple effect of opportunity that impacts generations to come.”

The world recognized the necessity for universal education during the formation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Most developing countries did not reach the MDG on universal education set to be accomplished by 2005, but they are on the right track toward achieving the goal by 2015. In order to meet the next target, however, developing countries need to focus more on improving female enrollment and attendance of secondary and tertiary education as well as continuing efforts to improved girls’ access to primary education.

The global community is taking action against the disparity of girls’ education, with the establishment of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI).

UNGEI was launched in 2000 by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to assist developing countries in fulfilling their dedication toward providing universal education and promoting gender equality, the second and third MDGs.

It is a partnership between multiple international organizations, including all in the UN system, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector, and communities and families. It is the flagship for the Education for All movement. All of these agents work together to facilitate the coordination of girls’ education strategies at the country level. They work at removing barriers toward schooling for girls, and reenforce the importance of investing in girls’ future, for the benefit of the country.

UNGEI’s goal is to create “a world where all girls and boys are empowered through quality education to realize their full potential and contribute to a transforming society where gender equality becomes a reality.”

UNGEI is working at accelerating action toward girls’ education in order to reach the related MDGs by 2015, so that girls and women can actively and knowledgeably interact in the global community.

Olivia Lawe-Davies, a communications officer at the World Health Organization, told MediaGlobal, “We know that increasing access to education opportunities for girls can make an important contribution to short- and long-term [outcomes] for the girl, families, and broader society.”

The benefits of providing girls with education can be seen beyond personal welfare and development and well beyond their childhood.

First, educated women are more likely to seek medical care for themselves and their families, immunize their children, and provide proper nutrition and sanitation at home. These practices will reduce both child and maternal mortality and ensure healthier and well-nourished families and communities.

Second, educated women are more likely to stay in school longer, which will delay when and how many children they have. It is estimated that one year of female schooling would reduce fertility by ten percent. Because educated women get pregnant later in life, their babies will be healthier, and they will know how to properly care for them.

Third, educated women are more knowledgeable, and therefore, will have a better grasp on their domestic role and share household duties more evenly with their spouse. They will have access to higher-paying jobs, which will impact their families’ finances as well as contribute to their national economy. They are also more likely to participate in political and social decision-making.

Lastly, educated women are less likely to be vulnerable toward sexual abuse or exploitation, which will protect them against sexually-transmitted infections, such as HIV/AIDS.

All of these occurrences are imperative to global development, and they can be accomplished by educating girls.

An educated mother is more likely to have educated children, both boys and girls, which help ensures that universal education and gender equality will continue on through the generations.


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