Friday, 3 June 2011

BLOG 4 GIRLS: The effects of cultural attitudes on girls education

An old African Proverb states that 'if we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family - and a whole nation.'

However, this message doesn't seem to have made much of an impact in many areas of the world. Central Africa is a good example with the poor status of women, a general patriarchal dominance and the continuation of young and often forced marriage many girls do not make it past Primary education.
Indeed it is often marriage that ends a girl’s chance of education. In the poorest countries in the world 1 in 7 girls are married before their 15th birthday. This is a truly global issue with 64 million women aged 20-24 saying that they were married before they were 18. Many of these marriages will have been chosen for them by their family (especially the male members) and may be to someone she does not even know. Abductions for marriage are also common in some countries. In Ethiopia for example, girls as young as 8 are taken for marriage. Not only is this a gross disregard for the girls feelings it is also hugely detrimental to their future and that of the nation as a whole. By removing women's ability to go on to Secondary and Higher education it effectively removes half the intelligence of the nation from being fully utilised. 
In many cultures, girls are seen as, if not the secondary sex, then one that has extremely specific value and roles. As the culturally implied breadwinner, male education is often perceived as important and therefore paying for further education is a precursor to better employment. For girls, whose cultural role is perceived as maternal, education is of far lower importance. Girls are often kept at home to prepare food and look after siblings. As they grow older they become valuable as marriage tools to be used for familial or political gain. Even when not married young, girls education is not valued as marriage is seen as inevitable and therefore education is a waste of money. This gendered system is then socialised both at home and during early education creating a gendered cycle, which is incredibly difficult to break out of.
Attitudes within the family are not the only cultural problem facing female education. In schools, teachers often reinforce sexual stereotypes and cultural norms in what they teach. A lack of female sanitation and help for older girls during their development also hinder further study. Often girls face sexism from both teachers and male pupils and even worse face sexual harassment and abuse from both. In the worst cases this can even mean swapping sex for grades. This flagrant and horrific abuse by those with a duty of care obviously has the worst effect on girl’s education. The abuse faced by girls in many secondary schools leads to poor performance and a high drop out rate. Problems are exacerbated by a lack of female teachers and role models leaving girls feeling isolated and alone.
            Child labour is also a prevalent problem and one of the most common affecting girls education. Often primary school-age girls are working as many hours as an adult and also far longer than boys. They also start work earlier and such a workload is impossible to sustain while perusing a successful educational career. 
            While access to Primary education is widening for girls, with up to 70%+ attending, it is clear that a great number of huge and often degrading cultural barriers stop girls from going on to achieve their full potential.
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