|© UNICEF/ HQ97-0326/ Noorani|
|A primary education school supported by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Bangladesh.|
The single most important factor preventing girls from attending and achieving in school is gender discrimination. Girls and boys both have hurdles to overcome. For girls the hurdles are, for the most part, higher and more frequent—simply because they are girls.
Family poverty is also a barrier to education. Sending children to school may result in the loss of their income or help at home. The school may charge fees that the family knows it cannot meet or require a uniform that a family cannot afford. And often, when a choice is to be made between sending a girl or a boy to school, the family will put its scarce resources into the education of the boy, believing that it is a better long-term investment.
The legal frameworks around education can be weak, and many put girls at a particular disadvantage.
- Compulsory and/or “free” education laws may not exist, or may not be enforced.
- Early marriage and pregnancy are widespread in many countries, yet most have laws and policies that prohibit pregnant girls from attending school or returning to school after the birth of their child.
- Worldwide, an estimated 50 million children are not registered at birth, and the majority are female. In many countries, the lack of a birth certificate can prevent admission to school or block eligibility to take examinations.
The playing field is uneven from the start. Learning does not begin on a child’s first day at school. The early years of a child’s life are critical to his or her development. Yet discrimination against girls can begin even before birth, when female fetuses are more frequently aborted than those thought to be male. In the early years of childhood, girls often receive less care and attention. And more often than not, there are different expectations as boys and girls grow and develop, which is of significant concern since low expectations are tied to low achievement.
Issues of safety and security in and around school particularly affect girls.
- If children have to travel long distances to school, parents are less likely to allow their daughters to make the journey because of the risks to their personal safety.
- Physical violence in schools, particularly bullying and corporal punishment, affects boys and girls. Girls are more likely to be victims of sexual violence, including rape.
- The traditional gender divisions of labour are mirrored in school. Girls may be made to do school maintenance tasks at the expense of learning, denied physical exercise, and may endure sexual and emotional harassment.
- There may not be adequate (or any) hygiene and sanitation facilities on or near school premises. This can present a major problem for adolescent girls in particular.
- The lack of female teachers, particularly as role models and possible confidantes, can make female pupils feel less secure in the school environment.
- Gender-based violence, including rape and early pregnancy, forced marriage and the spread of HIV are among the problems for girls in refugee camps and schools.
- Children in situations of crisis and instability are often denied their right to education when they need the routine of schooling the most.
Children are more likely to drop out of school if it is irrelevant to their realities. There is a need for relevant curricula and materials for literacy and numeracy, along with “facts and skills for life,” which include education on rights, gender equality, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS and peace. Girls face additional challenges. Females are generally absent—or portrayed stereotypically—in the content and images in lessons. This is particularly true in areas traditionally regarded as the male domain.