Jacqueline Bhaba, Director of Research at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), has said that we should see girls from developing countries not as victims but rather as survivors.
When the financial resources of a family living in a developing country are scarce, girls become the first to be removed from school. Girls are married off to bring financial resources into the family. There are conscious cultural issues facing girls. The greatest inequality and abuses of girls and women’s rights are those that are accepted as being inevitable – “I learned to live a life of servitude.”
Economic development goes hand in hand with better health, better education and the improved position of women in society. David Canning, Professor of Economics and International Health at Harvard University, has stated that we should not wait for economic development to be the resolution to all these issues. Improving the role of women through education can act as a powerful driving force for imparting a social and economic benefit to their country.
There has been a lot of global progress made in giving girls an education. The United Nations have made it an aim to achieve universal primary education by next year as part of the Millennium Development Goals. However, significant effort still needs to be made in improving the quality as well as the access to education.
There is a tremendous gap between girls finishing primary school and those finishing secondary school. There are disparities in the number of girls who get to go to school in urban areas versus rural areas. Girls living in rural areas have a greater decline in secondary education than in urban areas. Jacqueline Bhaba from HSPH attributes the differences to two factors: puberty and governmental priorities.
UNICEF established the Convention on the Rights of the Child which insisted on the importance of providing primary education for children. Global leaders and policymakers need to recognise secondary school as being equally important as primary school for girls. They need to investigate the institutional issues in regards to secondary education and resources allocated. In addition, the cultural and societal issues that surround puberty for girls (i.e. menstrual hygiene).
The lack of access to education can leave girls isolated and withdrawn from society. Early marriage, childbearing and immense familial responsibilities with little contact with the outside world has a paralysing effect on girls. Many families need their daughters to remain at home to earn money and be the breadwinners of the family.
For many families living in developing countries, sending their daughter to school was an economic issue. Richard Robbins, director of the documentary Girl Rising, had observed this during the making of the film.
It is common for families to sell or give up their daughter for bonded labour. There is the implied criticism that the parents are cruel and unloving for doing so. However, there is the recognition that parents had done this to protect their child and offer them to someone who would be able to provide for them. Although the choice is done with good intentions, the decision is misguided. Previous research has shown that bonded labour and child labour do not decrease poverty but rather the opposite. If instead a girl could be sent to school she would develop skills that could draw upon more financial resources. She would be able to reduce the burden of poverty for her family and nation.
There is an enormous amount of return for a girl when she is given the opportunity to go to school. Each year of school increases wages by approximately 10 percent. A girl who is educated grows up to become a woman who is able to be more involved in decision-making for her family. A woman’s role as a mother becomes important in bringing in more resources for her family. This is true for education and health of her family. When women are educated, they begin working outside of the home environment which has the potential to double the labour workforce for their country.
The right for girls to have an education is not an issue of girls versus boys. Girls deserve the same opportunities as boys to enable them to realise their full potential in life. With issues regarding gender based violence, it is important that boys are educated about menstrual hygiene, risks and preventions of HIV/AIDS and the evils of child marriage. Boys and men are part of the change agents of allowing girls to have access to education.
According to the UN Development Reports gender index, the West African nation of Sierra Leone has the worst gender inequality in the world. A girl can be expected to receive only up to six years of formal education. The female literacy rate is only 24 percent.
This year I will be teaming up with the One Girl organisation as an ambassador to take part in the Do it in a Dress campaign. I will be raising funds to help give girls in Sierra Leone the opportunity to go to school.
You can make a donation by going to www.doitinadress.com/jaredtalavera.
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The Do It In A Dress campaign officially begins on the 1st of October. Challenge yourself by signing-up and raising funds in a school dress.
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