SEATTLE — Women’s rights have been a work in progress since the beginning of time. Even in places like the United States and the U.K., females face issues such as a gender-based pay gap, conservative views of domestic responsibility and a lack of paid maternity leave. The fact is that becoming a working and educated female is hard. It is a constant fight no matter where you are. Education gender gaps are one of the biggest obstacles to empowerment. To be an independent woman is defiance against the odds, but in these five countries, those odds are the slimmest they can be.
Struggles to face: early marriage, gender-based violence, lack of menstrual products and latrines at school, few teachers, large families, conservative interpretations of Islam
Struggles to face: early marriage, civil war, lack of teachers, no female property rights or custody rights, male priority in large families
- Burkina Faso
Struggles to face: early marriage, gender-based violence, expensive schools and resources, wives considered legal inheritance of men, domestic responsibility for women only, conservative interpretations of Islam
Struggles to face: early marriage, gender-based violence, lack of female teachers (families refuse to let males teach their young girls), conservative gender roles, conservative interpretations of Islam
Struggles to face: early marriage, gender-based violence, most of the loans earned by women belong to male relatives, conservative interpretations of Islam
These five countries all face very similar difficulties: a trend of child marriage, violence in society or domestically, few female rights, lack of resources and conservative views of domestic duties and religion. These countries are in some cases far apart, but all face the same issues related to education gender gaps.
These countries specifically have been unable to throw off such strong patriarchal domination because gender roles are ingrained in their culture, and due to violence in the form of terrorism or specific female-targeted acts, they have lacked the resources to do away with the old roles. Because of the lack of funds and chaos caused by violence, they do not have as much access to media displaying things like working women, gender equality and more liberal lifestyles. The people are subject to whatever their religious leaders tell them or to whatever the warlords demand.
While the religious leaders generally uphold the conservative spectrum of their religion, and the warlords use male dominance to attack women, the people are either forced to comply with fear of condemnation or fear of death. As a result, education opportunities for girls are dismal at best, and education gender gaps strong.
There are a few organizations working to change that. They are honing in specifically on empowerment and compliance with religious leaders. They fight inequality through religious compliance, healthcare and lower costs. While these countries are making decisions based on fear, there are organizations working to allow the brave to speak up and the fears to become obsolete.
Groups like the Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend are providing access to menstrual products, health plans and family planning. They are working to help girls get on their feet and remind them that they have the power to do so with some resources. Another focal point is participation with religious leaders in the communities. They realize that the people will listen to their leaders, and work to get them to preach more teachings regarding equality in the effort to close education gender gaps.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation targets dropouts and is working to provide education and lower costs to complete their studies. Many of these dropouts are girls who were married young and had to drop out due to pregnancy, were raped on the long way to school, or had to be absent too often due to menstrual cycles in schools without latrines. School systems in these countries do not cater to women or even provide equal accommodations, and SDC is working to allow these girls to finish at home.
USAID, UNICEF and Citizens Foundation are all working closely with schools. They work to train women teachers, install better resources and supplies, reach out to local girls to attend school and enforce academic standards so that they are able to pass exams and progress. They are raising literacy rates, female teacher populations, book access and quality of bathrooms, all while decreasing education gender gaps.
All of these organizations are powerhouses in the fight for female literacy, health and empowerment. They are battling not only violence, but resistance. The struggle to remove deep-rooted gender roles is a difficult one, but thanks to the resilience of brave volunteers and teachers, success is drawing closer. The people in these countries are starting to be exposed to equality, healthcare and literate lifestyles. With the help and blessing of local leaders, this growth can continue smoothly, and girls will be able to choose their own paths in life.
– Emily Degn