MAIDUGURI, Nigeria –– On April 15, about 300 girls were taken captive from their boarding school in Northern Nigeria. The culprits were an extremist Muslim group known as Boko Haram. The name, translated to English, means “Western education is a sin.” While Boko Haram and other groups are doing everything in their power to halt female education around the world, their reasoning is deeper than keeping tradition: fear. As New York Times puts it, the best tool to fight extremism is education.
The Nigerian schoolgirl incident barely scratches the surface of the struggles young women are going through to obtain education in the world today. Violent acts to hinder female education regularly occur in many areas around the world.
In 2008, two girls were on their way to school in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when Taliban men sprayed them with battery acid causing severe burns to the girls’ faces. Just within last year, Nigerian militants destroyed at least 50 schools in their country. Statistics show that children in general are more likely to go to school in areas not dealing with conflict.
Another well-known event was in October 2012, where Taliban members stormed a school bus in Swat, Pakistan, identified Malala Yousafzai, and shot her in the head. They were targeting specifically, in order to try to silence her campaign for girls’ rights to get an education. She survived the shooting, and her fight for education has skyrocketed.
Aside from the violence, there are long standing contributors to the imbalance between male and female education across the globe.
Studies and interviews have been done worldwide to find out what hindered or helped further girls’ education. The results showed that the culture of an area had a large effect on the success of female education.
This included arranged marriages where a girl would be married off young, therefore her education seemed pointless to others. Families in many areas believe that educating their daughter is not beneficial to them since they will soon leave their family to marry into another one. In and outside of marriage, pregnancy rates added to the amount of female dropouts as well.
Another factor was poverty. With many countries not providing free education, a family may have to limit the number of their children to attend school, and boy children are almost always chosen over girls. Even if a girl is able to attend school, she may not have the time to keep up with her studies: With their usual housekeeping roles, many of the girls lack the time and energy to study since they are expected to upkeep everything in the home.
A 15 year old girl from Nepal states: “I am the first child of my parents. I have a small brother at home. If the first child were a son, my parents might be happy and would be confident as their future is assured by having a son. But I am a daughter. I complete all the household tasks, go to school, again do the household activities in the evening, and at night only I do my school homework and I study. Despite all the activities, my parents do not give value or recognition to me. They only have praise for my brother, as he is the son.”
One study suggested that the lack of highly educated female role models made it hard for girls to gain the confidence that they could succeed in school. On the other hand, the same study showed that girls with educated mothers were more likely to gain an education, showing how a positive female role model does help when they have one.
Single sex schools are another positive influence in female education. With an all girls school, the girls are able to compete amongst themselves and not feel like they are being brought down with inferiority from the males, and they can have female teachers as educated role models. In the past few years, taking results from national exams in Kenya, the best scores, for all students, have been from girls who attended all girls schools.
What do anti-education groups have to fear about girls gaining the opportunity to attend school? Everything. With a more widely educated female population, comes a very different world:
For the individual female, education has plenty of perks. A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV, marry at a later age, and have fewer children. For the children they do have, the children are two times more likely to survive past age 5 if their mothers are educated.
For a community, an educated female population helps boost the economy, with a higher workforce than before. Also, with each extra year of schooling boosting a female’s future wages by 10 percent to 20 percent.
With an educated female living in a hospital, labor productivity and wages rise, increasing household incomes, which slowly helps reduce poverty in an area.
What is being done to fight for education? While the dearth in educated women is still a huge issue today, much more is being done to fight it.
Yousafzai went on after her experience getting denied education to create the Malala fund, dedicated to increasing girls’ education around the world through various projects.
In Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique, ActionAid has implemented a campaign known as Stop Violence against Girls in School (SVAGS.) Its goals are to pass policy framework that specifically addresses violence against girls, reduce violence by 50 percent, increase girls’ enrollment in school and for girls to have the confidence to challenge the culture of violence in schools.
The United Nations has declared October 11 of each year as “Day of the Girl Child,” a day to recognize girls rights and challenges as they fight for education across the globe. Their mission of the campaign is “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for girls to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.”
With continuing efforts from those organizations and others, we will one day see a world where a girl anywhere in the world has an equal chance to go to school as her male counterparts. But spreading awareness is not enough: we need to alter the female inferiority mindset across the world in order to give females what they should already have a right to: opportunity.