With a set of encouraging parents and three little sisters to make proud at home, I had known my entire life graduation would come and I would continue my education somewhere else. The saying “girls can do anything” had been a mantra in our house.
As a young woman now in college, it is a humbling and upsetting fact that this seemingly “guaranteed” phase of life for me is not accessible for women worldwide.
Women’s lack of access to education is not isolated to one country in the world.
The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, according to its website, is “a partnership of organizations committed to narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education [that] seeks to ensure … girls and boys [have] equal access to free, quality education.”
Seventy percent of the countries partnered with UNGEI, like Nigeria and Kenya, report lower literacy rates for girls ages 15-24 compared to boys the same age.
Moiyattu Banya, an adjunct instructor in the women’s studies department, started Girls Empowerment Summit Sierra Leone (GESSL) in 2012, a program seeking to “inspire, empower and enlighten” girls in her home country, she said.
“It’s a country that’s kind of rebuilding itself … so there’s a lot of issues women and girls face. One of the issues is access to education,” Banya said. “My thinking was, ‘Why don’t we come up with a plan to ensure girls are supported?’”
“We provide workshops throughout the year, everything from leadership and development to public speaking to confidence building … to peer mentorship to community service projects they have to do,” she explained. “Ultimately, the girls become stronger and more confident in themselves. They [do] way better [in school] and end up being top of their classes.”
Banya told me more about why making sure boys and girls have equal access to education is so important.
“The urgency for girls to go to school is one that cannot be overlooked,” she said. “It not only contributes to the familial structure but to the individual… Girls become their best selves [when they’re educated]. They go on to lead top organizations and corporations but also they end up giving back to their community.”
Madison Gray, a sophomore political science and global studies major, is the president of Temple’s chapter for the national organization “She’s The First” which sponsors girls’ education in the developing world. She had similar thoughts about why education should be more accessible for women.
“It’s important as just a matter of gender equality,” Gray said. “When a woman is educated, she’s able to live a healthier life herself… Plus, she’s the center of the family, so when her life is better, she makes the entire family’s life better.”
I have never doubted the importance of a woman in a household or place of employment, for that matter. I had not realized, however, the full extent of opportunities denied to women outside of the U.S. due to the gender.
The 2012 annual report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said women are being “attacked and killed on account of asserting their rights to education, work and generally for choosing to have a say in key decisions in their lives.”
The World Health Organization, in 2013, said 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence, most of it by an intimate partner.
“This evidence highlights the need to address the economic and sociocultural factors that foster a culture of violence against women. This includes… eliminating gender inequalities in access to formal wage employment and secondary education,” the report said.
These primitive practices are something I thought I would only read about in history books, not news articles. The impact of such is not limited to only the country where they occur.
A woman’s success has a ripple effect on her family and the surrounding community.
“More educated women tend to participate more in the formal labor market, earn more income, have fewer children, and provide better health care and education to their children, all of which eventually improve the well-being of all individuals and can lift households out of poverty. These benefits also transmit across generations, as well as to communities at large,” World Bank said in 2015.
In a world constantly exchanging through Twitter and Instagram, it is astounding how out of tune we are with the struggles of our foreign sisters.
Recognition of these happenings and the promotion of feminism globally can not stop at the media buzz over public figures like Malala Yousafzai, the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize who has been advocating for girls’ educational rights.
Like Banya, Gray and other women working to make a change, we should all take into account the importance of other women’s struggles, especially when it comes to something as pivotal as access to education.
Grace Shallow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.