Re­vealed: the 10 worst coun­tries for girls to get an ed­u­ca­tion

The Guardian Australia - - World News / Opinion - Kate Ho­dal

South Su­dan has been named as the tough­est na­tion in the world for girls to re­ceive an ed­u­ca­tion, with nearly three-quar­ters fail­ing to at­tend even pri­mary school, ac­cord­ing to an in­dex pub­lished this week.

Cen­tral African Repub­lic, where there is only one teacher for ev­ery 80 stu­dents, and Niger, where just 17% of women aged 15 to 24 are lit­er­ate, fol­lowed South Su­dan on the list com­piled by the One cam­paign, which es­ti­mates that more than 130 mil­lion girls world­wide fail to at­tend school ev­ery sin­gle day of the year.

Nine of the top 10 most dif­fi­cult na­tions for girls to be ed­u­cated are in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. Afghanistan, which has the high­est level of gen­der dis­par­ity in pri­mary school, is the only non-African coun­try to make the list, rank­ing in fourth place. Chad is fifth, fol­lowed by Mali, Guinea, Burk­ina Faso, Liberia and Ethiopia.

Some coun­tries – in­clud­ing So­ma­lia and Syria – could not be in­cluded on the list as they had in­suf­fi­cient data about girls and ed­u­ca­tion rates. Al­though many schoolage boys in con­flict zones, in­clud­ing the 10 coun­tries listed, of­ten fail to at­tend class, in some na­tions the gen­der gap is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing. In Cen­tral African Repub­lic, for ex­am­ple, nearly twice as many girls (38%) are out of school as boys (20%).

Re­search shows that girls who are not ed­u­cated are more at risk of poverty, child mar­riage, vi­o­lence and prone to dis­eases, in­clud­ing HIV and Aids.

Gayle Smith, pres­i­dent of the One cam­paign, said the fail­ure to both ed­u­cate and count girls in ed­u­ca­tion is “a global cri­sis that per­pet­u­ates poverty”.

“Over 130 mil­lion girls are still out of school – that’s over 130 mil­lion po­ten­tial en­gi­neers, en­trepreneurs, teach­ers and politi­cians whose lead­er­ship the world is miss­ing out on,” said Smith. “This is not just about get­ting more girls into school, it’s about the women they grow up to be: ed­u­cated, em­pow­ered and em­ployed.”

In most of the 10 coun­tries, more than half of girls are mar­ried be­fore their 18th birth­day, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, and one in four are, on av­er­age, child labour­ers. But even in coun­tries that spend a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of their bud­get on ed­u­ca­tion – in­clud­ing Ethiopia and Niger – fac­tors such as ex­treme poverty, child mar­riage, and cul­tural and eco­nomic bar­ri­ers still pre­vent girls from gain­ing an ed­u­ca­tion.

“The in­ten­tion of the in­dex is to start a con­ver­sa­tion on this is­sue,” said Alice Jowett, One cam­paign’s ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy man­ager. “But we have to high­light that there are big data gaps, and we need to in­vest more in data in gen­eral. One of the things we sug­gest is that na­tional gov­ern­ments ap­point a min­is­te­rial lead for look­ing into why girls don’t fin­ish school and how those na­tions can ad­dress some of those bar­ri­ers.”

The One cam­paign and YouTube launched a joint #Girl­sCount project on Wed­nes­day to urge world lead­ers to pri­ori­tise girls’ ed­u­ca­tion and mark the In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl. More than 50 YouTube cre­ators from around the world – with a com­bined out­reach of more than 32 mil­lion view­ers – have con­trib­uted a video to com­mem­o­rate the 130 mil­lion girls who fail to at­tend school. No­bel peace lau­re­ate Malala Yousafzai ac­tor Char­l­ize Theron and YouTube vlog­gers TheSor­ryGirls have also con­trib­uted to the #Girl­sCount cam­paign.

In Fe­bru­ary, ac­tivists will lobby world lead­ers to fund the Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion, an in­ter­na­tional fund that sup­ports school­ing in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

“In 2018 lead­ers have a chance to turn the cor­ner on the girls ed­u­ca­tion cri­sis – it starts with fully fund­ing the Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion,” said Smith. “This is a global cri­sis and it needs an emer­gency re­sponse.”

Girls sit amid the ru­ins of a pri­mary school burned down in fight­ing at the Malakal pro­tec­tion of civil­ians site in South Su­dan. Pho­to­graph: Ge­orge/Unicef

In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl: how in­equal­ity starts be­fore birth – video

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