Education International
Education International

Millions of girls at risk of missing out on primary education

published 20 July 2011 updated 29 August 2011

Millions of girls are being forced out of school because of poverty, the threat of sexual violence and poor-quality schools – despite improved enrolment rates, according to a new report from the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) of which EI is a founding member.

The report, Make It Right: Ending the Crisis in Girls' Education, calls for governments and international financial institutions to redress the balance and give girls a fair deal.

In the last decade the number of girls who have been able to start school increased, but they remain more likely than boys to be forced out again. In some parts of the world only one girl in ten will complete primary school.

Even when education is accessible and free there are other challenges, such as recruiting female teachers and providing adequate sanitation. Girls from poor families are more likely to have to work and tend to animals and crops. If parents become sick, especially because of HIV, girls are expected to stay home to care for younger siblings. Girls often have to drop out of school to be married.

The report says that the best means of protecting girls from early marriage is to keep them at school. In Mozambique girls in education are 50 per cent less likely to marry before they are 18.

The report says that the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, India, Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan are among those countries failing to respect the rights of girls to an education. In sub-Saharan Africa, girls have less than a 50 per cent chance of finishing primary school. In some Asian countries girls also struggle: 41 per cent of girls in Pakistan and 30 per cent in India fail to finish primary school.

Girls' chances of finishing secondary school are even slimmer. The number of boys enrolling outstrips the number of girls in two-thirds of countries.

The report also highlights countries that have been able to improve girls' enrolment and retention in school – Jordan, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia and Ukraine among them.

The report says it is vital to tackle the causes of exclusion and drop-out. Schools must be free and made safer. Discriminatory classroom practices, stigmatisation and stereotyping of girls must be stopped. Governments must underpin all this with strong financial support and specific policies to achieve gender equality in education.

The report calls for governments to act without delay and calls on donors to commit to a $2.5 billion in a replenishment of a reformed Education for All Fast Track Initiative in November.

GCE President, Camilla Croso, said: "We cannot tolerate the constant violation of women's and girl's rights to an education. Not only has the 2005 Education For All goal of gender parity in enrolment been missed, but the 2015 gender equality goal remains way off track. "

EI President, Susan Hopgood, said: “It's unacceptable that too many girls are still without equal access to education. Until girls are educated, we cannot effectively tackle poverty or inequality. If girls are given the chance to learn and thrive in properly resourced and safe schools, with highly qualified teachers, then there will be no stopping our agenda of Education For All, as a fundamental right, not an optional extra."

These issues, as well as gender equality in unions, gender-sensitive education, and government commitments to women’s rights, will be taken up at the EI Women’s Caucus that will take place on 21 July, in one of several events leading up to EI’s Sixth World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa.