For International Women's Day, Sofie Penn-Slater looks at why we should all be talking about women's education.

"All I want Is An Education, And I am Afraid Of No One" - Malala Yousufzai 

 

Every year, on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange, and the organisers are encouraging everyone to take a bold action to improve the lives of women. Here at Student Hut, we aim to provide valuable resources and information to school, college and university students in order to help them make the best choices about their future. That’s why I’ve decided that my action for International Women’s Day is to write this article in support of championing women’s education.

International Women's Day - girl raising hand

(Copyright: Elissa Bogos/Save the Children)

I’m very lucky that I received a good education, from my tiny village primary school throughout my secondary school and sixth form, where my A-level grades secured me a place at a Russell Group university. My parents always expected that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and study for a degree, and the majority of my fellow pupils also went on to higher education and university. I wasn’t particularly fazed by the prospect of student loans (oh, the ignorance of youth) because they were easy to obtain and simple to repay. There was never a need for me to find money upfront to pay for any part of my education. My story is not unusual - it is one with which many of my peers will identify. So why is women’s education still such an important topic?

In 2012, a fifteen-year-old girl was shot in the head by a masked gunman who boarded her schoolbus and asked for her by name whilst she travelled home from school with her friends. The bullet went through her head, neck and shoulder. Miraculously, she survived. That girl’s name is Malala Yousafzai. The people who wanted her dead were members of the Taliban. The reason they wanted her dead is because she actively opposed the Taliban’s efforts to prevent girls from going to school. A young girl was nearly executed for attempting to get an education.

Malala

Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in Pakistan in 2012

In total, approximately 130 million girls of primary and secondary school age are not in school. The factors contributing to this staggering statistic are varied and complicated, but many of them reflect the violence of Malala’s story. Sexual violence, early pregnancy, trafficking, child marriage, expensive fees and the need to work to support a family in poverty are some of the most common reasons that girls drop out of the education system. In many cultures, stigma, myths and inadequate facilities are a huge hinderance to girls continuing their education after puberty. These issues affect girls globally, in both developed and developing countries.

If girls are deprived of an education, then they are trapped. Trapped in the home, trapped doing manual labour for little or no pay. Their only option is to marry and start a family with the hope of being supported by their husband. Education is the most empowering and valuable achievement that a girl can obtain, because it gives her the skills, confidence and ultimately the freedom to contribute to her community in a positive and influential way. Educated girls can make choices about their own lives. It is education that can give women a voice, and with that voice they can instigate change.

Here are some facts from the Malala Fund:

  • If all women in developing countries finished high school, deaths of children under 5 would fall by 49%
  • Every additional year of school a woman attends increases her wages by an average of 12 percent
  • The poorest girls in developing countries spend on average less than 3 years at school
  • Increasing number of girls completing secondary edu by 1% could increase a country's economic growth by 0.3%.

But what about the education of women closer to home? With women outnumbering men in almost two-thirds of degrees, can the UK rest easy? Far from it. There are concerning gender gaps in subjects such as engineering, computer sciences and nursing. In nursing, women outnumber men 9 to 1. Not to mention the Gender Pay Gap, which despite being at it’s lowest level ever still stands at 18%. So there’s still work to do.

The education of girls has come a long way over the past 20 years, but we must never slip into complacency. There is still so much to do and improve both close to home and in developing countries around the world, from challenging gender stereotypes that keep excellent women out of male-dominated sciences to creating safe spaces in which children can learn without fear. We must continually challenge the status quo, continually strive to make our world a better place for the young girls who will grow up to inhabit it as women. Education is at the forefront of equality.

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