What’s wrong with women’s education today?
In the United States, it is easy for us to take public education for granted. People tend to air grievances about standardized testing, student loans, abstinence-based sex ed, and myriad other issues regarding U.S. education. These things, among many others, are completely legitimate. My goal here is not to minimize our complaints or stunt those conversations. However, while there are weak areas that need definite improvement, we tend to forget our privilege at a very basic level. In the United States in 2014, women comprised 55.2 percent of all college students, undergraduate and graduate. That same year, 30.2 percent of women 25 and older had obtained some level of higher education. This is not to say we should not strive for further improvement, but let’s not forget to count our blessings.
If we back up further to view the entire picture, we see a very different story that seems to silence the U.S. microcosm. Of the 774 million illiterate people worldwide, two thirds of them are women. According to UNESCO, 31 million girls of primary school age are out of school. 17 million of them are expected to never enter school. Almost a quarter of young women in developing countries, ages 15-25, do not receive an education. In Nigeria, over 5.5 million girls do not go to school. In Pakistan, over 3 million, and over a million in Ethiopia. This is an issue of epidemic proportions, and is an affront to women everywhere.
Why is this anti-feminist?
Because this is a physical, numeric manifestation of discrimination against women, and the prioritization of men above them. It represses our voices, provides us with fewer opportunities, disarms us by withholding access to proper knowledge, and keeps us dependent on our male counterparts. It compromises our health, our happiness, and our lives.
UNESCO claims that, “Biases against girls run deep in education systems, whether in terms of participation, textbooks or teachers’ attitudes.” In many countries, though variations exist, women face social and cultural barriers when attempting to obtain leadership and management positions. Only 29 percent of the world’s researchers are female. Female literacy is under 50% in 12 Sub-Saharan African African countries. The bottom ten countries for female education (from 1 to 10) are Somalia, Niger, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Pakistan Yemen, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire. This spells massive perpetuation of exploitation, poor health, and mothers not seeing the need to send their daughters to school. And these women are not to blame–they are simply denied the option to know any better. These practices and inherent lack of opportunities maintain society’s toxic views of women, keep alive women’s underestimating views of themselves, and compromise women’s health.
How does it make a difference in women’s lives?
Providing more educational opportunities for women everywhere would be a positive change all around. When women are educated, they inherently have more knowledge and skills to apply to working jobs. Not only is this monumental with working towards equality, but it impacts the countries they live in.
According to Malala Yousafzai’s website, if all girls received 12 solid years of education, “low and middle income countries could add $92 per year to their economies.” Concern Worldwide adds that, for every 10 percent more girls that attend school in a given country, that country’s gross domestic product rises by 3 percent. Giving entire populations access to secondary education also cuts a country’s chances of entering a war in half. While I will not delve too deeply into subtopic, violence, corruption, and desperation stem in part from lack of opportunity and lower income situations. Desperate people turn to crime more often and, by equipping populations with more ways to advance their lives, crime statistics decrease.
On a more individual level, education affects many facets of a woman’s life. According to Concern Worldwide, girls with basic education are three times less likely to contract HIV. Additionally, they are generally more aware of how to practice safe sex and avoid sexually transmitted infections. In fact, Malala’s website informs us that every additional year of school significantly cuts down both infant mortality and child marriage rates. On the subject of parenting, this also leads to women who marry and have children later on in life, which typically yields better outcomes for future generations. Education also increases the likelihood of mothers ensuring their children receive sufficient nutrition to fight off disease and successfully develop. All of these facets, among others, perpetuate more educated concepts within families, cultures, and countries.
What can I do to help?
If you find yourself passionately wanting to somehow contribute to the bettering of female education around the world, there are several resources through which you can donate. I have listed links to some recognized and renowned organizations for this specific issue below. Additionally, any kind of initiation of discussion always helps. Change begins with mass awareness. This sparks enough people to care and convulse the world to change. Idealistic as it sounds, even just making a post or volunteering with a friend can amount to a large difference.
About The Author
Anneliese Aberg Scalzo is a senior World Literature major at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She hopes to pursue a career as a human rights attorney. Anneliese is immensely passionate about issues involving disadvantaged populations and hopes to utilize her affinity for words to spread awareness. In her downtime, Anneliese enjoys practicing her Swedish language skills, adding to her home library, and relaxing with her dogs.