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Education for Girls and Women

Feb 6, 2009, 5:01 AM | Article By: Isatou Dumbuya

"In the developing world today, many more boys become literate than girls. In some countries, twice as many boys as girls are brought to health centers for treatment. Employment rights, security rights, legal rights, property rights, and even civil and political liberties are all likely to depend on the one cruel chromosome distinguishing human male from human female"

James P. Grant, Executive Director, UNICEF

The state of the world's children.

Although the proportion of educated children has grown dramatically in the past 25 years, boys have proportionately fared much better than girls. Of the estimated 960 million illiterates in the world two thirds are women.In 1990, 130 million children had no access to primary education; of these 81 million were girls. The gender discrepancy increases during the secondary school phase, and by 18, girls have received on average 4.4 years less education than boys.

UNICEF and other international organizations have drawn attention to the 'gender gap' in educational opportunity and its consequences for human development. The failure to attract girls into schools and keep them there has a major impact on their future childbearing and mothering careers. A woman with several years of primary schooling bears many fewer children than a woman with only one or two; even modest classroom experience pushes down the death rate among future offspring.

Independently of these child survival arguments, equality of classroom opportunity is also a matter of female right; and its results show up in a country's economic performance and productivity. According to the World Bank, a country with more educated girls and women is not only healthier, but wealthier. Since the Jomtien conference, UNICEF has redoubled its efforts to tackle the exclusion of girls and from school, their high dropout rates and their low achievement. Article 28 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which claims equal rights for girls and boys to education, has been backed with affirmative action. Attention has been mainly focused on South Asia where girl's primary school enrolment trailed that of boys by 29 per cent in the 90's; in sub - Saharan Africa, where girls trailed by 20 per cent and the Middle East 18 per cent. The first requirement is to identify the reasons for girls' absence. These begin with the values which children absorb among the earliest 'lessons' provided by their most influential teachers, mothers and fathers. This process may pass on divisive and, in the case of girls, subjugative role models. Parents' choices of investment in their children depend on their view of their children's futures as adults. The son will need to earn, to establish his household and to care for their own old age; a daughter will marry, her adulthood will serve another family. For many parents, the loss of a child's labor is a debit against attendance in school. And even where school is 'free' there are costs: books, uniform, bus fares. UNICEF has closely examined the factors that influence parental willingness to send their girls to school. An approach successfully used in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal is to bring schools closer to communities so that girls do not have to travel far to classroom. This is especially important in societies where girls past puberty are not allowed to walk about the neighborhood, or where they are at risk of sexual harassment from male peers or teachers.

Some schemes provide scholarships for girls, to compensate parents for the loss of household help, and offset the costs of fees and uniforms. Although this kind of affirmative action may arouse resentment from parents struggling hard to keep their sons in school, there may be no other way to underline to parents that society regards investment in girl's education as a family and social asset.

Thus, for many parents, the choice comes down to economics: investment must be spent on the most likely prospect - the son.