In recent years, the international community has begun to place increased attention on girls’ education generating a better understanding of the underlying causes and consequences of the disparities, and an international consensus on the need to address the issue. Much has been done to create awareness and demonstrate that change is not only necessary but also possible.
In the long-term Millennium Development Goal 3, which focusses on eliminating gender disparities in education, is one of the most important mechanisms for addressing women’s marginalization and exclusion. However, getting girls into school is only part of the process and unfortunately to date much less emphasis has been placed on what actually happens in the classroom. As a result, although progress towards gender parity continues, many countries will not achieve gender parity in education by 2015 and had the world achieved gender parity at primary level by 2008, another 3.6 million girls would now be in school (UNESCO, 2011).
In 2004, ActionAid undertook research into the obstacles to girls’ education in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America demonstrating that gender stereotypes entrenched in traditions, customs and religious beliefs help perpetuate circumscribed notions about the position and worth of girls in society - limiting their capacity to enjoy some of their most fundamental human rights. In many cases, girls’ every day experiences are also conditioned and controlled by various forms of violence at home, at school and within the wider community.
Across the world, violence against girls and women takes a worrying array of forms ranging from physical, emotional or sexual abuse, to institutionalized forms of repression and control that serve to limit women and girls’ choices and decision-making power over their own bodies such as female genital mutilation and early marriage. All of these forms of violence constitute violations of women and girls’ fundamental human rights.
Early marriage is increasingly being recognized as one of the main barriers to girls’ education and evidence gathered in countries which implicitly or explicitly condone the practice illustrate the constraints forced upon girls lives. Early marriage, and the consequent implications of childbearing and domestic labour, not only place serious limitations on girls’ capacity to enjoy their rights to education and to develop to their fullest potential - but also in many cases leads to serious health implications and, in some instances, death.
Over the past 38 years ActionAid has been working to increase access to quality primary education globally. Emphasizing a rights-based approach our mission objective on education – improve the quality of public education for all children and support youth to become drivers of change towards a poverty-free planet - focuses on two key change promises:
Transforming education for girls and boys
Harnessing youth leadership to end poverty and injustice
Key to achieving these goals is challenging and transforming the socio-economic and political factors keeping girls out of school through human rights based approach framework. Much of ActionAid’s education work seeks to focus on understanding the root causes of discrimination against girls and its impact on their ability to enjoy their education rights.
By using a combination of research, community-based initiatives and advocacy, the organization has been able to raise awareness of the links between violence and education, develop examples of best practice and lobby for concrete changes in policy and practice.
Flagship examples of this work include two multi-country girls’ education initiatives being implemented across Sub-Saharan Africa: Transforming Education for Girls in Nigeria and Tanzania and Stop Violence Against Girls in School.
In the context of its new strategy ‘People’s Action to End Poverty’, which focuses on holding governments to account for public services, transforming education for all children and increasing women and girls’ control over their own bodies, ActionAid is engaged in looking at girls’ empowerment through a rights-based perspective.
Using a 12-point charter, developed in collaboration with girls themselves, ActionAid has been calling on the international community to implement existing international frameworks, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to recognise the importance of violence and other barriers to girls’ education by making these the subject of new targets in the MDGs.
By Victorine Djitrinou, Program Development Coordinator, Transforming Schools