While many gains have been made, and more children than ever are now attending primary school (King, 2013), there is still not world-wide gender parity in education. In every income bracket, there are more female children than male children who are not attending school. Girls in the poorest 20 percent of household have the lowest chance of getting an education (Jensen, 2010).
Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa, and Western Asia still face many challenges reaching gender parity for primary education, while sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Asia face the biggest challenges for secondary education. On the other hand, Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Asia, and South-Eastern Asia have more girls than boys signed up for secondary school (Jensen, 2010).
Girls’ gross enrollment has increased the fastest in South Asia, especially on the primary level, where gains have been measured at 30 percent. Enrollment gains at the secondary and tertiary level have risen just as fast (King, 2013).
There have been improvements in educating girls at the tertiary level in the developing world, reaching 97 girls per 100 boys. In the CIS countries, Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern Africa, and South –Eastern Asia there are more girls than boys enrolled at the tertiary level, but the numbers have not reach parity in other regions (Jensen, 2010).
This inequality does not change in adulthood. Of the 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, 64 percent are women – a statistic virtually unchanged from the early 1990s (Gender Statistics, 2010). The UN Millennium Development Goal to promote gender equality and empower women therefore uses education as its target and the measure of gender disparity in education as its indicator of progress. Through the efforts of the international community, the UN hopes to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education in all levels of education no later than 2015.
Educated women tend to be healthier, have fewer children, and secure health care and education for their own children, which are all benefits that translate to the community at large.Education is crucial because, according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), inequality in education is directly correlated to poverty, and its elimination would help alleviate poverty in general. UNESCO also states that female education has spillover effects for society; these effects include improved fertility rates, household and child health, and educational opportunities for the rest of the household. In addition, increased skill levels allow women to participate more in the economy, and increase the economic prosperity of the family.
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 finds that in places of extreme poverty or extremely rural areas, females are less likely to complete any type of schooling (Jensen, 2010). According to a Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) study of 24 low-income countries, only 34 percent of girls in the poorest-quintile households complete primary school, compared to 72 percent of girls in the richest-quintile households (King, 2013).
To address the failure to provide basic education for all, which is defined as a basic human right in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the World Education Forum (WEF) produced the “Education For All” targets, which include ending inequality between males and females in education. The Forum recommended that governments and organizations implement integrated strategies for gender equality in education that recognize the need for changes in attitudes, values, and practices.
Several of the world’s poorest countries, located in Sub Saharan Africa, west Asia, and the Arab states, will fail to reach Education For All targets, especially gender equality, by the agreed date of 2015. UNESCO’s monitoring team found that norms and values hold females back as much or more than policy. The education of girls is not valued in many societies because they are expected to contribute more at home, while boys should gain skills to work outside the home.
There are region-specific hazards for girls, as well. For example, in South America, the further a school is from a household, the less likely girls are to attend, because travel introduces an increased risk of assault and rape. In parts of the Middle East and North Africa, the public life of a female is so limited that exposure to anything outside the home seems unnecessary.
A World Bank study found that incentive-based enrollment programs can overcome even deeply imbedded cultural resistance. For example, when girls in Bangladesh were offered a small salary for attending and passing school, community protests subsided, or parents affected change, on issues such as female students taught by men and constructing separate latrines for males and females.
Malala Yousafzai is an example of a courageous young woman fighting for girls’ education in Pakistan. In January 2009, a Taliban edict banned girls’ education in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Malala first rose to prominence as a blogger advocating for girls’ education. In October 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while boarding her school bus, and was transported to the UK for medical care. After being discharged from the hospital in January 2013, she continued her activism, and gave an affecting speech at the United Nations in July 2013, stating that,
Today, I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves. So dear sisters and brothers, now it’s time to speak up. So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all of these deals must protect women and children’s rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable.
To see Malala’s UN speech in full, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5X70VyjU0g (BBC Profile, 2013).