Breaking the barriers to girls’ education in the developing world

Imagine this: somewhere in the developing world, identical twins are born. Despite their matching genes, they are far from being one and the same. One of them will find themselves more likely to be without an education, more likely to succumb to child labour, more likely to be paid lower wages in a job that is marginal and insecure and ultimately be more susceptible to poverty than its brother. The reason for its ill fate? This sibling is female.

Women account for 70 percent of the world’s people who live in absolute poverty; they work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce half of the world’s food and yet they only earn 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property. Many mothers in the developing world are therefore unable to pay for their children to go to school, and in cases where they can, they often choose the boys over the girls, as they have better prospects. Not only do girls lack education as a result of poverty, they themselves become susceptible to poverty, and the cycle is difficult to break. The question to ask, therefore, is why? Why is it that girls face more barriers than boys in accessing education in the developing world?

The thing is; poverty is a gendered phenomenon. It’s no more apparent than in the world’s poorest countries, where 70% of girls are forced to marry before their 18th birthday. What’s more, the majority of those earning $1 a day are women. Even the United Nation’s End Poverty by 2015 Millennium Campaign has utilised the phrase ‘Poverty has a woman’s face’, noting that every one of the eight goals is directly related to women’s rights. The campaign’s feminisation of the image of poverty illustrates that in order to eradicate poverty entirely, we must combat female poverty in particular, and this may only be achieved by breaking down the walls that block girls from education, brick by brick.

This is why Plan UK’s Because I Am A Girl campaign is so crucial to girls in the developing world: because they know that an educated girl is less likely to marry and to have children whilst she is still a child. They know that an educated girl is more likely to be literate, healthy and survive into adulthood, as are her children. They know that an educated girl is more likely to reinvest her income back into her family, community and country. They also know that educating girls is vital for decreasing global poverty levels.

While all eight of the Millennium Development Goals relate directly to women’s rights, it is simply not acceptable to ignore these gender-based inequalities. I’m speaking for every little girl in the world when I say that education should be a choice. Each and every girl could lift herself out of a life of poverty if she only had an opportunity to learn and pull herself out. If we successfully tackled inequality in education by widening the access to education for girls, as Plan UK aims to do, the previously mentioned twins would be as equal in society as they are in their genes.

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