Every child has the right to go to school. Not only is sending a child to school the right thing to do, the evidence for promoting education to improve individual health, nutrition, earning power as well as national economic growth is incontrovertible. This is not a women’s issue, or a soft, feel good issue. Education for everyone is a human right. It’s a human issue.
The kidnapping of the Nigerian school girls helped to focus global attention on girls’ education as #BringBackOurGirls became a symbol of repression. The very name of their captors, Boko Haram, means (Western) Education is Forbidden. Yet, as horrifying and tragic as this situation is, these girls are not the only ones who have been denied the right to go to school.
There are 58 million children who do not attend primary school and 63 million adolescents do not go to secondary school. More than half of these children are girls and more than half live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
While school enrollment has vastly improved over the last decade, so much remains to be done. The Montreal-based 60 million girls Foundation focuses on educating the most vulnerable girls. To this end, we’ve supported 19 projects in 13 countries around the developing world.
Why do we focus on girls? Isn’t it just as important to make sure that boys go to school? What’s the difference? Are boys getting a bad rap?
Clearly, education for all children is a vital development objective. Yet, in addition to the fact that education is a human right, it has been proven that educating girls is one of the most powerful tool for reducing poverty.
Research shows that educating a girl goes a long way; it transcends generations and creates the impetus for better conditions for families and communities.
Have a look at these numbers:
If all girls had a primary education, women would be 66% less likely to die in childbirth.
There would be 15% fewer child deaths if all girls went to primary school, and 49% fewer child deaths if all girls went to secondary school.
Each additional year of schooling can increase a woman’s earning by 10-20%
Each additional 1% of girls who have secondary schooling can add 0.3% to national GDP.
And there’s a cyclical effect: a mother who goes to school will send her own children to school, thus perpetuating the benefits.
So, educating a girl nets some pretty important and tangible results for improved health outcomes and poverty reduction. Just as important as these clear indicators of value, education gives girls and women a Voice. What does this mean exactly?
Having a Voice means that women have greater say over what happens to them. For example, in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, virtually all women feel that they suffered from domestic violence, lack of control over household resources or both. They have little say over their lives. Fewer than 60% of Niger’s girls are enrolled in primary school and 75% of young girls are married as children.
What is Keeping Children (Especially Girls) out of School?
There are multiple factors that prevent girls from going to school. In some cases, it’s a matter of ‘what has always been done’. It can be hard to change attitudes. However, digging a bit deeper, the majority of out-of-school girls live in poverty, often in hard to reach rural areas, and in conflict hot spots (sadly, there are many of these).
A poor family may not be able to afford school fees, uniforms and textbooks for all their children. Consequently, some families prefer to send only the boys to school, thinking that they get a better bang for every scarce buck – spending money on educating girls, they reason, is a waste of time as a married daughter will live with her in-laws, bringing no financial benefit to her birth family.
Of course, it can be hard to separate the needle from the haystack. The positive cycle of educating a girl can take a generation to materialize. Once that educated daughter is able to earn more, she can contribute to her family’s well being and then educate her own daughters in turn, thus creating positive momentum for education and poverty reduction. This is where policy is important: by making schooling more affordable, sending a daughter becomes an easier choice for poor families.
The 60 million girls Foundation works with Canadian charities on the ground that address key concerns of families and make it easier for them to justify giving their daughters an education. For example, our partner in Sierra Leone, CAUSE Canada, has instituted a peer mentoring system in its schools: the younger girls get the benefit of the older girls’ knowledge and a role model to look up to. In return, CAUSE pays for the older girls’ tuition, and other education-related expenses, to allow them to continue on to secondary school. Our partner in Kenya, Free the Children, has instituted a lunch program at school so all kids get a nutritious meal – something that can be hard for a poor family to provide.
Living in a conflict zone is clearly a disincentive to attending school: when parents are worried about personal safely, education becomes less of a priority. In fact, half of all school kids live in a conflict zone.
To help remedy this, 60 million girls supports some of these most vulnerable girls. This year, we are working with CARE Canada to provide a safe learning environment for girls in Afghanistan’s Khost province.
We’ve also supported educational programs for girls in refugee camps in Kenya and in post-conflict situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The good news is that a little money goes a long way to helping out-of-school girls. 60 million girls is a 100% volunteer-run organization: we are able to send 99% of donations to the projects that we support around the world. Since 2006 we’ve raised $1.9 million for children in 13 countries. You can help by clicking HERE.
Check us out at www.60milliongirls.org.