What’s the best way to help women around the world? To mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, the New York Times columnist Nick Kristof outlines his “Three Proven Steps to Advance the World’s Women,” and top of the list is education. “It’s cheap, it opens minds, it gives girls new career opportunities and ways to generate cash, it leads them to have fewer children and invest more in those children, and it tends to bring women from the shadows into the formal economy and society. . . . overall, educating girls probably has a greater transformative effect on a country than anything else one can do.”
As the 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report points out, much progress has been made in narrowing gender gaps in education over the past decade, but in many countries girls are still being left behind in educational opportunities. The disadvantages that girls face are compounded by other forms of marginalization, including ones associated with poverty, ethnicity, language and location. The GMR team has published an overview of what needs to be done to make sure girls get the same opportunities as boys.
Though the importance of education as an important liberating factor cannot be debated, however, in developing countries the other ground realities also need to be taken into account. For many developing countries around the world, even the so called ‘free education’ is not ‘cheap.’ I have talked to people who find it difficult to send their daughters (or even sons for that matter) to school because they can’t afford the bus fare! The households living below the poverty line would rather have their daughters supplement the family income by working as housemaids. Moreover, the claim that education ‘opens minds’ needs to be looked at in view of the curriculum being taught in schools. Most of the time it ends up strengthening certain pernicious stereotypes.
Naureen raises an important point – even when schools do not officially charge fees, the costs of schooling can be prohibitive.
I am a senior policy analyst on the team who wrote the 2010 Global Monitoring Report. In this, we highlight the fact that the costs of schooling often keep more girls out of school than boys. In northern Nigeria, for example, only 12% of primary school age Hausa girls from poor families attend school – far fewer than boys from these same households. Household deprivation hurts girls’ education in particular, as poverty intersects with social and cultural practices, beliefs and attitudes.
As the report shows, a difference can be made where countries carry out reforms that cut the costs of schooling for girls from poor households, accompanied by reforms to address stereotypes in the curriculum and adverse attitudes and practices outside the school environment. The “inclusive education triangle” developed for the report provides a framework for linking these three policy areas.
Further information on educational marginalization from a gender perspective that was included in the 2010 GMR can be found in our Gender Overview (available on the GMR website).
Thank you Pauline. The core focus of policy makers, whether it’s education in general or female education in particular, still seems to be on the number game. Quality, though figuring as an important concern in policy documents, leaves a lot to be desired as far as the ground realities are concerned.
The quality issue also has a gender dimension. Certain stereotypes lead to girls’ concentration in particular subjects with sciences still considered as a male domain. The recent New York Times article ‘Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences,’ citing AAUW report, points toward continuing cultural bias for women in science. In developing countries the issue is far more complicated with more extreme forms of cultural biases, norms and taboos which impact girls’ education in varied ways. But the issue of empowering women as professionals and persons in their own right cannot be left on the back burner until we have solved the problems associated with parity in primary, secondary and tertiary education. There has to be a multi pronged approach. So far, policy documents, at least the national ones, have failed to address the gender dimension of quality in education.