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The world needs women’s education

| Monday, November 13, 2023

Gender inequality is a global issue. Several factors within a variety of cultures contribute to the widespread societal belief that girls are inferior to boys because of their gender. Other social issues such as harmful cultural practices, a lack of sustainable income, adolescent pregnancy and menstruation stigma amplify and further perpetuate gender inequality.

These factors prevent girls across the world from receiving an education that would encourage them to use their voices and be leaders in their own lives.

As of 2022, 129 million girls are not in school, and with current efforts, it will take another 54 years to reach universal primary school completion for girls. The lack of girls’ participation in education is rooted in misogyny. Many families do not see girls’ schooling as a viable solution to financial insecurity as many families are unaware of the economic benefits which can be gained from educating girls, both for their families and the global economy. In reality, if every girl worldwide received 12 years of quality education, lifetime earnings for women could increase by $15 to $30 trillion globally. Educating girls not only empowers women to take control of their lives, but it benefits society as education and gender equality are sustainable solutions for poverty, hunger, adolescent pregnancy, child marriage and can even help address the climate crisis

Room to Read — a nonprofit founded on the belief that “World Change Starts with Educated Children”  — is working to create a world free from illiteracy and gender inequality. The nonprofit has created a multi-media storytelling project called ”She Creates Change which boldly aims to reach 432 million adolescent girls in the world with content and an educational curriculum to support them in creating change in their lives and communities. ”She Creates Change” uses life skills-based education to encourage girls to step into their power, discover their inner strength and advocate for themselves and their future. The dynamic film series — which includes six animated shorts with accompanying live-action mini-documentaries — features the narratives of six courageous young women from historically low-income communities in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Vietnam who used skills learned from Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program to transform their lives.

Young girls worldwide will be inspired by role models who became agents of change, made a difference in their lives and impacted their communities. Girls experience discrimination through harassment, menstruation stigma and child marriage on a global scale, preventing them from receiving an education. Women’s empowerment is key to promoting girls’ education for it encourages young women to believe they are deserving of an education and capable of making their own decisions.

The protagonists in the short documentaries tackle common issues that prevent girls from receiving a quality education. One of the most common forms of discrimination is harassment. Many girls across the globe have to walk long distances to school exposing them to an increased risk of experiencing violence. One of the shorts in ”She Creates Change” highlights the story of a girl from Bangladesh named Keya who was repeatedly harassed on her walk to school and even in her own home. Each year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their walk to or at school. Additionally, the separate yet related issue of adolescent pregnancies resulting from sexual violence and/or sexual exploitation exposes girls to a violation of their bodily autonomy along with strong stigma and discrimination from their communities. Both of these issues are common factors in preventing girls from attending school out of concern for their safety.

Menstruation huts are another institution that prevents girls from attending school. This practice is referred to as chhaupadi in Nepal, the exiling women to sleep in a hut while they are menstruating because they are believed to be unclean. In the huts, women are at risk of snake bites, physical assault, freezing temperatures and suffocation because of the lack of ventilation. Girls like Diksha, a Nepali girl whose story is included in the ”She Creates Change” short-film series, have witnessed their friends and loved ones miss school and become exposed to serious dangers because of their period. Many women die each year from these huts, and 77% of Nepali girls aged 14-19 participate in this practice even though it is illegal in Nepal. While menstruation huts are most common in Nepal, girls in other low-income communities across the globe do not attend school while they are menstruating due to a lack of access to sanitary products. A UNESCO report estimates one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during her menstrual cycle — this equals as much as 20% of a given school year. 

Child marriage is another factor that impacts girls’ education across the globe. There are 640 million child brides in the world and up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of child marriage due to the pandemic, economic shocks, school closures and service interruptions. In many countries, each year of secondary education may reduce the likelihood of marrying before the age of 18 by 5% percentage points or more.

The issues of harassment, menstrual stigma and child marriage are preventing girls around the world from receiving an education. Yet education is the most sustainable solution to combating these obstacles that many girls face across the world. Empowering young girls to believe they are confident, strong and capable human beings with the potential to achieve their goals provides them with the tools to positively impact their lives and their communities. Girls like Keya and Diksha were able to unlock their courage and use their voices to combat gender-based discrimination. Women hold the power to make a profound difference in combating the world’s greatest problems.  ”She Creates Change” highlights the importance of showing girls they hold within themselves the potential to make a difference. Girls’ education is the key to solving many problems people face across the globe. Change starts with awareness — by diagnosing the problem we can work together to be a part of the solution. All girls are worthy and deserving of receiving an education. The world’s biggest problems are only worsened by gender inequality; a world where women are equal participants in society will bring everlasting change for the betterment of humanity.

You can access the ”She Creates Change” videos here. Share them with your community to spread awareness about the importance of women’s empowerment.

Grace Sullivan is a sophomore at Notre Dame studying global affairs with minors in gender and peace studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T. (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Grace Sullivan

Grace Sullivan is a sophomore at Notre Dame studying global affairs with minors in gender and peace studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T. (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at [email protected].