Girls are less likely than boys to be enrolled in school, especially at the secondary level, according to the State of World Population by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
According to the report, these figures are even worse in countries that have undergone civil unrest or natural disasters. Some of the reasons why girls are not enrolled in school or end up dropping out include the “pressures to perform other roles such as earning an income or starting a family.”
“This is especially true for girls, who by the time they reach secondary-school age, may not be seen as an effective “investment” by the household. Some may suffer the consequences of unintended pregnancy, may experience sexual harassment both on the way to and in school, and may have limits set on where they may travel within their communities,” stated the report .
With the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign, the report is timely and ties well with the theme of the 2016 campaign: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All!
Education is one of the fundamental human rights, but not many people enjoy this right due to the variety of reasons including lack of infrastructure, discrimination and violence. The negative impact weighs in more on girls and women as they experience the worst effects of illiteracy both in private and public spaces.
Even with the increased mileage on education for girls, there are still obstacles that impede access to education: one of them being early marriages. According to “She Cannot Just Sit around Waiting to Turn Twenty:” Understanding Why Child Marriage Persists in Kenya, a publication by International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), there is a disparity between the age of marriage as per the constitution and the number of women married before the age of 15. In Kenya, the legal age of marriage is 18 years, however, 4.4 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 got married before the age of 15 and 22.9 per cent of the same group got married before the age of 18. Statistics further indicate that 46.7 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 were sexually active before the age of 18 with 23.3 per cent having their first babies before age of 18.
Poor infrastructure is also a contributing factor to limited or no attendance of girls in school. This is also compounded by lack of security and fear of sexual harassment, as most schools do not have measures to protect girls from the dangers of GBV.
Why Education is important
Another ICRW report indicates that in Senegal, 14 percent of girls with primary education are married as children as compared to 41 per cent of girls without education. The same is the case in Mozambique, where 60 per cent of girls without primary education are married by the age of 18 compared to 10 per cent with secondary education and one per cent with higher education.
By having a girl go through school, there is a higher chance that they are able to postpone marriage and have increased ability to decide whom to marry. In this way, the girls are not exposed to a series of rights violations that take place all their lives as seen in the case where they marry early and to men they did not choose. In most of these situations, girls have limited or no negotiation power.
In many settings, keeping a girl away from school will limit her access to economic opportunities and deny her decision-making roles not only in the home but also in society. Such marriages also place the young women at risk of intimate partner violence. Factors such as power imbalances, social isolation and age gaps (in most cases the husbands are the ages of the bride’s father) contribute greatly to the violence within the home.
Without education, the girls will be joining millions of illiterate women. Two thirds of 483 illiterate people in the world are women. The fact that these women cannot read or write, makes them unable to participate in socio-economic activities and decision making in the community, thus continuing with the cycle of poverty.
With access to education, girls and women are able to make better choices when it comes to their bodies and livelihoods. Education is one of the biggest tools in fighting gender-based violence, some of which include early marriages, sexual assault, human trafficking, and domestic violence.
It is important to note that there have been campaigns to raise awareness on the importance of education by community organisations at grassroots level. Education not only of children but of the community as well will go a long way to reduce such violent traditions as well as reduce the exposure of girls and women to physical and sexual violence. By informing the community on the adverse effects of child marriages, there will be a progression in the improvement of educational facilities and willingness to take girls to school so that they can reach their potential and improve the society.
The improvement of educational institutions by providing an environment conducive for learning, will also reduce the number of drop outs. A Gender-Based Violence and Education Tool Kit by Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA) recommends a holistic approach to changing the situation in schools. This encompasses the training of teachers to be aware of the stereotypes in education; integrating sexual education in the curricula for both primary and secondary schools; promoting the development and implementation of policies and action plans to address GBV; and improving safety in the school.
Improvement of quality of educational facilities, gender-sensitive and gender-responsive education will likely go a long way in empowering girls. Schools can play an important role in preventing and ending GBV by raising awareness on child rights and influence positive change in behaviour and practices in the community. If governments, work together with non governmental organisations community leaders, children and parents, they will be in a better position to address any obstacles to the access of quality education by girls.
Main image taken from www.uis.unesco.org