Growing up in a privileged society, it’s easy to take certain freedoms for granted. We quickly forget that access to a quality education is not universal, especially for the women of the world.
There are well over 20 prominent nations, which continue to discriminate against females by preventing them from learning. In these countries, gender inequality in education not only stifles the development of women, but also their sense of self-worth.
Equal education, besides being a basic human right, is an essential tool for achieving social change, improved health and decision-making. In addition, investing in formal education yields high social and economic return, increasing economic growth and sustainable development in less progressive nations.
According to UNESCO, of the 110 million children out of school in developing nations, 60 percent are girls. The high rate of illiteracy and lack of education in most developing countries remains a severe impediment to the advancement of women and these nations as a whole.
For girls living in India, virginity and purity is given the utmost importance, not education. This notion, combined with the nation’s poor economic conditions, requires the girls to work to aid the family. People, moreover, are afraid to send their female children to schools in far away locations, where male teachers instruct them alongside the boys.
Almost the entire educated class in Cambodia was eradicated when the forceful Khmer Rouge assumed power in the 1970s. The aftermath can still be seen today, as most women’s education comes to a halt at the onset of, or before, puberty, with only 15 percent of women seeking higher education. For the overwhelming majority of women, their fate is to suffer from domestic violence or marital rape and work in the rice fields or as prostitutes as early as age 13.
The lack of formal education for women in Pakistan made headlines recently when the Taliban shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head for pursuing her right to learn. The education rate for Pakistani women is among the lowest in the world. Over half of Pakistani girls are not educated, and according to the World Economic Forum Gender Parity Report, Pakistan has the world’s second lowest rate of female employment. Now, the Malala Fund, named in her honor, endorses the education and empowerment of girls in Pakistan and around the world.
In Nepal, only seven percent of students actually make it to the tenth grade, and the ratio of boys to girls is practically 2:1. A female’s education is not as important as a male’s, and thus, many Nepalese young women are sold into bonded servitude or raised to learn to run a household. There are, however, glimmers of hope, as many associations are now running initiatives to provide additional educational support for Nepalese women.
Afghanistan is notoriously one of the hardest places in the world to be a woman. One of the most startling statistics we’ve found is that nine out of 10 women are illiterate: About 40 percent of Afghan girls attend elementary school, with only one in 20 girls attending beyond the sixth grade.
Not only do many women face death threats on their way to school, such as acid being thrown in their faces, but they are also forbidden to learn with boys, which makes finding an accessible school even harder. Since thousands of young girls are forced into child marriages at a considerably young age, they miss out on any chance of receiving an education.
Chadian women face cultural and social challenges that make it exponentially more difficult for them to attain an education. They have one of the highest rates of underage marriages in the world, and education is seldom a priority with their husbands controlling every facet of their lives. Orphans, child laborers and impoverished kids are unable to go to school in Chad -- only 10 percent of girls have even completed elementary school.
Papua New Guinea
Despite publicized initiatives to increase a woman’s access to education in Papua New Guinea, 60 percent of females are illiterate and that number is even worse in more rural areas. Primary education remains neither free nor compulsory, while violence against women is almost a mainstay. Even worse, village judicial systems relying on customary laws do little to rectify this grave situation.
In Haiti, one-third of girls over the age of six never go to school and the numbers are even more staggering for those living in remote areas. The estimated annual cost to send a child to school (uniform, books, materials and transportation) is equivalent to 131 US dollars, yet extreme poverty makes it extraordinarily difficult to afford this cost, let alone have one less child laborer to help provide for the family. With such hardships, it’s not completely astonishing that about 38 percent of the country cannot read or write.
Last month, Thomas Reuters Foundation declared Egypt to be the worst Arab state for women in the world. After the Islamist political party, Muslim Brotherhood, came into power in 2012, women’s rights have been drastically curtailed, including their right to an education -- a freedom they had previously pursued.
Since the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power earlier this year by the Egyptian military, the interim government is trying to rectify their previous mistakes, including women’s rights. It is interesting to note, however, that before the 2011 revolution in the country, Egypt had one of the better education rights for women in the Middle East.
In Guatemala, about 15.6 percent of the female population is educated to at least secondary school, compared to 21 percent of males. Women are traditionally viewed as having a domestic role and, thus, are not encouraged to attend school. On top of crippling poverty, the need to earn a living outweighs the expense and time that obtaining an education requires. Even if a family can afford to send at least one child to school, it will usually send the boy.
Photo credit: Shutterstock