Close to seventeen percent of adults across the world cannot read or write, two thirds of them being women, a proportion that has not changed much in the past 20 years. Women and girls trying to access education continue to face many barriers, from pressure for early marriage and domestic responsibilities to discrimination in the job market.
Girls and women continue to be discriminated against in accessing education and within education systems. Fifty seven million children worldwide, including 31 million girls, are out of school and two thirds of illiterate adults are women. In developing countries, adolescent girls are more likely to drop-out of secondary school than boys, particularly in rural areas.
There are many reasons that prevent girls from going to school. Poverty, pregnancy, school-based violence, child marriage and discriminatory gender norms are some of the major obstacles to girls’ education worldwide. School fees, the threat of violence on their way to and in school, and the perceived benefits of girls’ domestic work also keep girls out-of-school. Pregnancy and child marriage cut short adolescent girls’ schooling before they complete secondary school.
In spite of this, there is firm evidence that educating women does not just empower them but benefits society as a whole. Boosting the education of women contributes to reducing poverty, promoting economic development and addressing the world’s most urgent challenges such as conflict resolution and health issues.
International human rights standards on the right to education assert that the need for knowledge, skills and information is universal as well as central to human development. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Education’s promise of empowerment comes not merely from increased awareness of the rights of women and girl’s, but of the breakdown of powerful gender stereotypes and ideologies based on the notion that women should be subjugated and their human rights denied.
It is in this light of the issues highlighted above that the world commemorates the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, this year running under the theme: “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All”.