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The unfinished business of girls’ rights - New report by Plan International says girls put education at the top of their priorities

This story was originally published on the Global Partnership for Education website on 19 October 2015

By Sharon Goulds

Noelia is eight. She lives with her grandmother in the Dominican Republic. Her grandmother is keen for Noelia to go to school but nevertheless she is gradually teaching her “to do the household chores…because sometimes I go to the capital.” 

Girls have to help at home even if they go to school

Emilio, Noelia’s grandfather, as his wife acknowledges , “doesn’t know how to do anything…I went to the capital and stayed for a month; when I got back it looked as if no human being lived here”.

Noelia’s story is not unusual and this “training” to prepare her for the future is what happens everywhere in the nine countries where Plan International has been following a small cohort of girls since birth. Many of these girls are in school but it is not in school that these particular lessons are learned.

In Girls Speak Out, a study released this year by Plan international, over 4,000 adolescent girls in four countries – Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Ecuador and Nicaragua – told us that although parents encourage them to do well in school as much as they tell their brothers, there is no way that boys take an equal share in household chores.

Girls worldwide are subjected to a “curriculum of chores” and the impact of these on both their ability to study and their sense of self cannot be underestimated. In all countries, girls such as Noelia clearly indicated that the burden of household chores falls disproportionately on girls, and explained that these chores often take priority over school attendance, restricting their ability to get an education equal to their brothers and male peers.

Girls put education at the top of their priorities

In this new research, conducted for Plan International’s annual report on the State of the World’s Girls, it is clear how much girls value education both in and out of school. In the study, we asked about early marriage, early pregnancy and safety in school and in the community – themes that had been identified as key issues by girls themselves.

In all four countries, what the girls wanted was more information, better access to education for young mothers and wives, and access to knowledge about the issues that will affect their lives.

We asked adolescent girls what would most improve their lives and they told us education, but not just for themselves. As one adolescent girl from Zimbabwe put it, she would also “educate parents further about the importance of finishing school.”
A key priority for the girls we interviewed is to have better access to quality secondary education and, where necessary, alternative educational opportunities should they become pregnant at an early age.

Girls want protection against violence in schools

Girls also need schools to adopt and enforce rules and regulations that clearly state that violence and abuse is unac­ceptable. They also want schools to have clear and confidential complaint procedures. 

Violence is a key concern for girls and young women: it affects their whole lives and is one of the barriers to gender equality.
Girls overwhelming pointed to the power of education as a critical factor in preventing early marriage. Education is clearly a priority and it’s also evident from the research that education is an empowering factor. Girls with more than nine years of education are more likely to know and stand up for their rights.

As one girl in Pakistan said: “Education is very important so I will tell (other girls) to complete their education so that they can do anything in their life and then they won’t need anyone’s help”. This is a sentiment which was echoed across the four countries.

More opportunities for girls today

On the positive side, we also learned that gender equality has made progress in recent years. Adolescent girls told us that they had greater opportunities in life than their mothers and that they were valued in their communities more than previous generations. But their responses also teach us that there is a lot of “unfinished business”.

As we go forward with a new set of Sustainable Development Goals we must listen to the voices of girls if we are to achieve gender equality and quality education for all. At Plan International we are gathering information and evidence to work alongside this generation of girls and young women; to campaign with them, design programs that listen to their needs and prioritize the education they so obviously value.

Our research also tells us that education does not happen only in schools; it happens in families and communities, in the media, in discussion groups and at health centers. It is this pervasive power that girls need: education in many different guises in an environment where they feel safe, valued and protected. So that, across society, the “Unfinished Business of Girls’ Rights” can continue to be worked on.

To learn more, read: Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2015: The Unfinished Business of Girls Rights


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