Ayesha Khan, Canada
“We’ve all heard of the astounding ripple effect of girls’ education on society; an educated girl may become a mother, a mother will raise the next generation with the knowledge she has gained, and the community directly benefits.
The most prominent incentive to invest in girls’ education today is the benefit to a country’s economy, with various studies showing how GDP in low-income countries could dramatically improve with more girls in school and completing their education.
While this is important, I believe we should not simply view girls as a commodity to promote economic development but instead as deserving of knowledge and opportunity for the betterment of themselves and society.
In my research, I focused on girls’ education in South and East Asia. The quality and accessibility of girls’ education throughout these regions vary tremendously, but there are some common themes. South Asia has one-third of the world’s out-of-school girls, and a major factor contributing to low enrollment rates is a lack of sanitary resources at schools.
As several countries in South Asia have high rates of poverty, girls deal with menstruation without adequate resources at home or in school, causing them to miss on average up to 3 days of school per month. Additionally, safety on the way to and in school is a concern for girls and their families. Where girls need to travel long distances to get to school, incidents of sexual harassment and violence increase and families are understandably hesitant to send their daughters to school.
More often than not, the families of girls are eager to send their daughters to school, but factors such as safety, resources, money and practicality come in the way.
On a positive note, progress has been made for girls’ education by governments, NGOs and community members alike, including the Global Partnership for Education.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic risks undoing this progress. Now, more than ever, we need strong political and organizational leadership, with more investment in schools, teachers and girls’ education programs.
The most important task for leaders is to recognize and address how COVID-19 has affected girls, not just in their education but also at home. Are families struggling financially? Are girls contributing more financially or through housework? Is child marriage becoming more prevalent?
Given the burden COVID-19 places on women and girls, flexible learning strategies need to be prioritized to accommodate their education and ensure they do not drop out due to time or financial constraints. Finally, families and girls themselves should be given a seat at the decision-making table to ensure schooling is reflective of their needs and concerns.”