The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals lay out 17 international objectives. In 2015, 193 countries agreed to adopt these goals. The big picture objective of the goals is the eradication of poverty in the world while protecting the environment. Poverty is a state where someone does not have enough to meet their basic needs.
The fourth goal aims to ensure a fair and inclusive education for everyone.
While education is understood as a basic human right, access to it has not developed equally across the world or within countries. Globally, women and girls receive less education than do boys and men. This is the gender gap in education. It is the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Children who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth or who do not identify with a binary gender of male or female face discrimination in attending school as well.
Barriers To Access
The structures in a culture can stop girls and nonbinary children from attending school. In some countries people believe that educating girls is a waste of time and resources. In their culture, they may see the main function of girls and women in their society as a wife and mother. They might argue that an education would be wasted on them. Patriarchal control in a culture can perpetuate this view. Patriarchy refers to a society in which men hold most of the power and resources. The actions of women and girls are limited in male-dominated societies. For example, a father may decide that his daughter should marry instead of attending school.
Poverty is another major obstacle for closing the gender gap in education. Parents may not be able to afford the extra costs for supplies their children need for school. This includes study materials or uniforms. A family may live in a town that cannot afford enough teachers. A school may lag behind in technological or educational resources because of poverty.
While poverty affects all children, it can pull girls further behind than their male peers. Parents may only be able to afford to send one child to school. If so, they often make a boy the priority. In many societies, males will be more likely to be able to find paid employment, which furthers the cycle of inequality.
Violence at school based on gender is also a barrier. This includes bullying and physical attacks. Such behavior is often due to a wider culture that stereotypes females.
This culture relies on harmful gender norms. These norms are expectations of how someone should look or behave based on their gender. They are enforced by the society a person lives in. Not following gender norms can result in challenges for students trying to get an education.
Girls also often experience this type of harassment from their peers and teachers. This can lead to higher female dropout rates and can impact their physical and mental health.
Stereotypes about women can also lead to poor grades in certain subjects, such as math and science. Female students may not receive the same quality of education as boys in those subjects. They may receive no encouragement. This can be due to a teacher's misconceptions about girls' abilities to succeed in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Gender stereotypes can also result in a lack of female teachers.
For children who live in rural regions or areas with armed conflict, going to school or being in school can be unsafe. If girls travel long distances to and from school, they risk being attacked or harassed. Armed conflict in an area significantly reduces the likelihood that girls go to school. High-profile attacks in Afghanistan and Nigeria have shown that education can be a particular danger for girls and women.
Even if girls do enroll in school, it can be difficult for them to stay. According to the World Bank, in developing countries two-thirds of girls complete primary school while only one-third finish secondary school, grades sixth to 12th. This can be because girls help their parents out at home. They may take care of younger siblings.
Poor sanitation facilities also stand in the way. As girls get older, they may not have access to hygiene items they need to take care of themselves. The schools might not have a place for them to take care of their physical needs either. This forces some girls to remain home for a significant portion of each month. Other girls may drop out of school entirely.
The Benefits Of Educating Women
Women and girls generally find that education improves their quality of life. The benefits of closing the gender gap in education extend beyond that, however. Education affects the overall economic health of a country. As girls stay in school longer, they often wait longer to have children, so population growth slows.
Educated women have more opportunities to earn an income, which can reduce poverty in the country. Culturally, educating girls helps the next generation of children, because educated mothers start teaching children at home. They advocate for their children to receive a formal education, too. Women who are educated often have more decision-making power in the household. An increase in educated women also leads to more women becoming involved in policymaking and governing. This helps shift cultural attitudes toward a more equal society.
There are several global programs and organizations targeting the gender gap in education. The United Nations has several organizations aimed at promoting education, particularly that of girls. Programs helping teachers and schools develop curriculum promoting gender equality are what is needed.