ASUNCION, Paraguay — Paraguayan girls’ education has made tremendous strides in developing equal qualitative and quantitative opportunities to boys. Though there is surely much to celebrate, there is still much to be done in terms of leveling the playing field and further elevating girls’ educational opportunities, experiences and outcomes.
According to UNESCO, the literacy rates among Paraguayan boys and girls have steadily and equally risen about 10 percent from levels documented in the early 1980s. At least 90 percent of both girls and boys are now considered literate in the country. As of 2012, nearly 93 percent of girls in Paraguay were literate.
However, Paraguayan girls’ education has long faced hurdles rooted in misogyny and sexism. These obstacles range from a lack of quality sexual education, discrimination in classrooms toward girls and women on nearly every level of the educational system and violence against girls and women. All of these obstacles are deeply intertwined, and keep the girls and women of Paraguay from reaching their utmost potential.
Many girls face sexual violence at a young age, and most are refused access to restorative and counseling measures that can help them return to a degree of normalcy after such attacks. In rural regions of the country where poverty is also prevalent, one out of every 20 girls under the age of 20 has given birth. A quarter of those girls are under the age of 14, and as a result of their pregnancy are unable to continue with their education.
Speaking with the Guardian on Paraguayan girls’ education, rural school director Celsa Acosta remarks that “gender discrimination is common across Paraguay”. “Poverty is desperate, particularly in rural areas, and girls suffer the worst consequences,” Acosta says.
In a report presented in Paris in 2015, UNESCO found that at primary school, enrollment rates between boys and girls are almost equal, girls are more likely to be retained in school and girls often outperform boys in critical subjects like reading.
However, “Such overrepresentation of women does not necessarily tell whether they enjoy equal opportunities when it comes to what subjects they study”, notes a UNESCO-published article on the Paris presentation. In fact, women are dramatically underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in secondary education. This results in the exacerbation of the gender gap of income as STEM-educated individuals tend to enjoy a higher income.
Amnesty International, in a general outline on the state of human rights in Paraguay, notes that a framework to “bring education programs into line with international standards regarding sexual and reproductive rights” was implemented just this past September.
Violence against women and girls also acts as a serious obstacle to Paraguayan girl’s education. According to the U.N., approximately seven percent of all Paraguayan women have been raped. The U.N. reports that such violence was perpetrated against 78,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. “Of these women, almost 60 percent were under 19 years of age” during the first incident, and 20 percent were under 14. Such violence against women and girls has long been associated with psychological and physical health problems, and ultimately, reduced socio-economic status.
At the Paris presentation, the Minister of Education and Culture in Paraguay noted that much progress has been made and that there are key lessons to keep in mind for the future. “Our objective is not just numerical”, referring to equality between boys and girls in education. Rather, gender equality can only be achieved in the classroom if the broader cultural values of misogyny and sexism are also addressed and eliminated.
– James Collins