In rural Ghana, a dilapidated building with no door stands on scorched red earth. The windows have no glass or shutters, and the cracked, faded yellow paint is peeling.
Making its way to its zenith, the sun beams down on the jagged tin roof, reflecting its light. A rooster nearby crows as it struts across the yard. Inside, a chorus of voices rings out as the teacher begins the spelling lesson for the day.
I watch from a distance, not wanting to draw attention to myself. Being the only Caucasian within the area, I stand out and do not want to divert focus from the children’s lesson.
The tall, gaunt man leading them is not actually a teacher but felt compelled to become one for the children. The children’s parents couldn’t afford the financial burden of school fees, so each day he travels to the building and instructs the children at no charge.
I look on knowing that free education is a human right that benefits us all, and yet there are still barriers to this right—especially for girls.
Why It’s Important to Educate Girls
Studies have shown that educating girls increases economic growth. Additionally, when a girl completes her secondary education, she is less likely to be forced into child marriages and often leads to smaller families. The children she does conceive are likely to be healthier.
They are also less likely to suffer from domestic violence and discrimination, are safer from exploitation, and have longer, healthier lives. So why aren’t girls—particularly in developing countries—in school?
Saying goodbye to my friends before they get ready for school.
Why Girls Are Not in School
In some parts of Ghana (and other countries too), those who have a large family and limited funds enroll the eldest boy (or boys) in school. Most girls stay at home to do household chores or work to provide for the family.
But it’s not just school fees that burden families; the cost of transportation (or too far a distance to walk to school), food insecurity, school uniforms, supplies, and politics also factor into a child’s school attendance. These elements can be generally grouped into politics and poverty.
For instance, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, girls’ education became tragically restricted to the point where girls are now prohibited from attending secondary school and universities. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with strict restrictions on female education.
Girls’ education decreases in any country in crisis or conflict. In March, the United Nations declared that Afghanistan has become the most repressive country in the world for women and girls, deprived of virtually all their basic rights.
My first visit to Ghana was a humanitarian trip in the northern area of the country. In talking with families, I learned that most want their daughters to receive an education.
What hinders the process stems mainly from poverty—food and shelter insecurities that must be met before education can be considered—and cultural beliefs about “a woman’s place.” Therefore, some girls enter the workforce at an early age or stay at home to help with what is perceived as women’s work.
On trips to the cities of Yendi and Accra, I witnessed many young girls and teenagers working as street vendors. Some traveled from their remote villages to live in larger cities in the hopes of making income to help support their families.
The girls carried items such as plastic buckets, lighters, and batteries in a large bowl on top of their heads, weaving through traffic to find potential buyers amongst cars stopped at traffic lights. Others sold drinks or food—usually homemade drinks, fruits, or small snacks they had prepared earlier that morning. But these girls’ income was minimal, and they also had to find and pay for a safe place to live in the city while sending money to their parents back home.
Unfortunately, this led to long periods of separation from their families due to the lack of enough income to buy a round-trip ticket to visit their loved ones. This can leave girls vulnerable to other serious issues such as human trafficking and indentured servitude.
What We Can Do
There isn’t any easy, quick fix for such a large and complex topic, but there are some ways that we as individuals can support equality in girls’ education.
One way to help is to support nonprofits that work to empower girls and girls’ education, which have “boots on the ground” to facilitate various programs to create education equality for girls.
- Creating safe schools (from preschool through secondary school) that have free, quality education and safe boarding if a child needs to stay overnight due to distance.
- Providing bathrooms or changing rooms for girls who have started menstruating.
- Providing school supplies.
- Accessing safe modes of transportation to and from school.
- Supplying free nutritional lunches.
- Having families invest in their local schools through community efforts. In some developing countries, families assist with school lunches and cleaning when there are no janitors.
Other programs focus on decreasing school fees.
An NPR article reported on a program in Ghana that cuts school fees or provides scholarships to children who pass their entrance exam but can’t afford to go to school. The result was a drastic increase in girls completing and graduating from secondary school by as much as 66%.
Another way of supporting girls’ education is to travel to countries on a humanitarian trip.
In my experience, I gained a new level of empathy for the challenges girls face. It also opened my mind and expanded my awareness of supporting girl’s education. The trip transformed me so much that it has become one of my passions to support girls’ education in my country and abroad.
Good News: White House Commits to Supporting Girls and Education
On October 11th, the International Day of the Girl Child, the White House announced new actions to build girls’ education both in the United States and abroad. USAID already supports girls’ education in 50 different countries; this initiative added $21 million to fund additional educational enterprises.
You can find the Biden-Harris release describing the actions they have committed to ensure girls have the freedom to pursue their dreams and education here.
Within this initiative, First Lady Jill Biden hosted the first ever “Girls Leading Change” celebration at the White House, where young women throughout the United States were recognized for their work and impact within their communities.
Girls’ Education: One Way to Peace and Prosperity
While the topic of girls’ education is a complex one, it’s an important one for us to embrace. When we provide free, quality education to girls, the benefits are enormous. Investing in a girl’s education not only empowers that individual, but it also creates economic growth and community advancement, which leads to a more stable, equitable, and peaceful world.
Do you believe that girls’ education is important and deserves support? If so, find a way to contribute that makes sense to you, whether it’s hands-on volunteering, donating, learning more, advocacy, or prayer.
Let’s send some love to our younger sisters by lifting them up, supporting their dreams, and championing their education.