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In the first speech of her tour around Australia and the Pacific Region, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, spoke of the the importance of educating women and girls. Women and girls still face a number of barriers to accessing safe, quality education around the world. According to UNESCO, an estimated 130 million girls aged six to 17 are not going to school and 15 million girls of primary-school age—half of them in sub-Saharan Africa— will never enter a classroom. Of the world’s 774 million illiterate people, two-thirds of them are female.
“Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to receive the education that they want, but more importantly the education that they have the right to receive,” Meghan said at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. “And for women and girls in developing countries this is vital. When girls are given the right tools to succeed they can create incredible futures not just for themselves but for all of those around them.” Here are six reasons why girls’ access to education is an important issue needing to be addressed.
Main image credit: Samir Hussein / WireImage
Studies show that girls who are disadvantaged in a number of ways – such as low family income, living in remote areas, disability or belonging to a minority group — are the worst off when it comes to access to and completion of education. For example, in Nigeria, only four per cent of poor young women in the North West zone can read, compared with 99 per cent of wealthy young women in the South East. According to a report by the World Bank Group (WBG), women with primary education (partial or completed) earn only 14 to 19 per cent more than those with no education at all. However, women who attain secondary education earn around twice as much than those with no education, and women with tertiary education earn around three times as much. The WBG suggests that the provision of conditional cash transfers, stipends or scholarships, and creating more schools that are accessible to those living in remote areas, could help to break disadvantaged girls and women out of the poverty cycle.
The threat of violence is another significant factor stopping many girls from accessing education and a safe learning environment. For example, according to a report by USAID, one in three women in Haiti aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence. Of those Haitian women who received money for sex before turning 18 years old, 27 per cent reported schools to be the most common location for solicitation. The World Bank Group suggests that this issue can be targeted by building safe and inclusive learning environments for girls and young women, as well as addressing gender-based violence by educating boys and men.
According to the International Center For Research On Women, one third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, with one in 9 girls married before the age of 15 – below the legal age in most countries. Child brides are much more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer years of education than their peers who marry later. According to the WBG, attaining a primary education does not lower the risk of child marriage and early childbearing. However, each additional year of secondary education reduces the risk of marrying before age 18 by six percentage points on average. Education teaches women about their rights and empowers them to claim them. The WBG states that universal secondary education could help to virtually eliminate child marriage and greatly reduce early childbearing.
For many women who experience domestic violence or are simply in an unhappy marriage, leaving is often not an option as they lack the education or skills to enter the workforce and support themselves. (This is just one factor among many, as a women in a violent relationship is at most risk when she leaves.) Education gives women access to more job opportunities, helping them achieve the financial independence they need in order to leave an abusive relationship.
Educated women and girls are more likely to have better health outcomes in a number of areas. According to UNESCO, if all mothers completed primary education, deaths in childbirth would be reduced by two-thirds. And if women all over the world had a secondary education, child deaths would be halved, saving three million lives each year, and 12 million children would be saved from stunted growth and malnutrition every year. What’s more, the WBG states that providing universal secondary education could lead to an increase in modern contraceptive use, reducing the prevalence of early pregnancy, increase women’s knowledge of HIV/AIDS and other health issues, and even improve women’s psychological wellbeing.
Giving girls and young women greater access to education and skills training improves their job prospects, providing a broader range of opportunities for women in the labour market. As a flow-on effect, women’s increased participation in the workforce and ability to take on more highly-paid positions also helps reduce the gender pay gap.
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