Keeping Girls in School - A Step Beyond Getting Them There

Nearly 65 million girls around the world are not in school today. That means 65 million people lack access to a basic right that could empower them to lead better lives and contribute more meaningfully to the socioeconomic development of their societies. The lack of emphasis on girls’ education has translated into the inadequate representation of women in business, science, and politics. Currently, only 22 percent of all national parliamentarians are female and only 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women. These numbers are unacceptable. No development strategy can move a country forward unless it involves women as central players. 

A sound development strategy is one that gives women and men equal access to the same opportunities to thrive. National leaders are beginning to provide similar opportunities for men and women, but are giving men more competence to take advantage of these opportunities. The disparities between boys’ education versus that of girls depicts this phenomenon. In many developing countries, the enrollment of girls in primary and secondary school has increased. However, girls still face many obstacles to remaining in school including child marriage, excessive household chores, the lack of guidance through puberty, the risk of rape or sexual harassment during the commute to, or at school, and discouragement from family members opposed to girls’ education. 

Nurturing girls into women of influence in society requires the removal of obstacles that prevent them from remaining in school. National and international leaders must provide funds for building schools within as many local communities as possible. Reducing the distance that girls travel to school will reduce the risk of sexual harassment during the commute. These schools must be affordable or free so as to reduce the chances of girls being kept at home for financial reasons.

To boost retention, more female teachers must be hired and trained to provide guidance for girls, especially during puberty. A leading cause of girls quitting school is the shame associated with suddenly having their periods in school and being mocked for the bloodstains on their clothes. The lack of sanitary protection and separate bathrooms often causes girls who experience this shame to refuse to return to school for fear of being stigmatized. Female teachers can better advocate for girls’ needs while educating them on the importance of avoiding teenage pregnancy – another leading cause of dropouts.

Furthermore, national and local governments should offer tailored incentives to poor parents for keeping their daughters in school and enforce laws that safeguard girls’ schooling. School authorities should also work with families to develop flexible schedules to allow girls to meet their domestic responsibilities without sacrificing their education. All these moves must be accompanied by local and national campaigns that stress the importance of investing in girls’ education.

As President Obama recently stated, communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, are more likely to be peaceful and prosperous. Achieving gender equality is no easy task but investing in girls’ education is a necessary step that every country serious about progress cannot afford to overlook.

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