There are many benefits of female education, both for the girls and for the entire society. Educated girls have a healthier life, more opportunities, higher earnings, and their skills and competence can significantly contribute to the global economic growth.
However, there are still big systemic barriers preventing millions of girls across the world from having access to safe and quality primary and secondary education. Today, more than 130 million girls are out of schools. Whereas in Europe and North America girls have recently outperformed boys by the number of higher education diplomas and success in school, girls face discrimination especially in the world’s poorest countries, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, where the gender gap is also the highest.
Major obstacles to girls’ access to education include household responsibilities, poverty, cultural norms that prioritise boys’ education, early marriage, lack of safety in and around schools, sexual harassment and violence, and lack of basic resources and bad hygiene in schools.
Teen pregnancy is also an obstacle for many girls. For example, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, and Sierra Leone expel pregnant girls from schools. In contrast, boys who are the fathers are generally not expelled.
Below are some examples of gender gap in education around the world.
Chad is the lowest ranked country in terms of closing the education gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum report. This country has an extremely low literacy rate, with only 31.33% of men and 13.96% of women being able to read. The gap in primary school enrollment sits at 21%.
Afghanistan, the country that still suffers the consequences of a devastating civil war, girls often don’t have a place to go to school. Instead, they study in tents or in the street, while classrooms are mostly reserved for boys. Most girls drop out of school by the time they are 15 and only 37% of them are literate, compared to 66% of boys. Many get married very early or must find work to help their families survive. Sometimes, families don’t believe that girls should study or fear for their safety.
In Pakistan, where only 70% of men and 46% of women are literate, the wake-up call came in 2012 when a 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot and almost killed because she wanted to go to school. She became the voice of a generation of Pakistani girls who are denied education because of traditional gender roles are being forced upon them.
The gender gap in education exists even in economically developed countries. Girls are significantly under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Deeply rooted gender stereotypes discourage girls from pursuing these fields of study. Many countries are already actively working on changing the mindset that favours boys in STEM fields, but only 35% of young women today choose these career paths.
These examples and many more show that there is still much to be done to promote and improve access to education for millions of children all over the world.