Failing to let girls finish their education could cost the world as much as $30 trillion, World Bank data showed recently. With influential public figures such as Malala Yousafzai and Michelle Obama increasingly advocating for girls’ education, why are over 130 million girls worldwide still out of school?
In Tanzania, women and girls make up 52% of the population; yet in 2010, only made up 35% of those enrolled in higher education. When girls are not being nurtured and encouraged to complete their education to the same extent as boys, vast swathes of the country’s intellectual resources are not being utilised. Through ensuring that Tanzanian women and girls stay in education, we believe that the economic and social development of the country will grow exponentially; reducing the number of (disproportionately female) people living in poverty and improving the overall quality of life for everyone.
Despite the huge progress that has been made over the past 30 years in Tanzania one study suggests that only 10% of students enrolled at the graduate and undergraduate level at the UDSM were female in 1990. The question we face now is how to ensure that this trajectory of gender equity continues or accelerates- as opposed to stagnating. Furthermore, getting girls into school and keeping them in school are different matters; and the World Bank estimates that only a third of the girls who start secondary school graduate (Preparing the Next Generation in Tanzania).
But why is keeping girls in school such an important focus? This question is best answered by an old Ghanian proverb: "If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)".
This stems from the notion that if mothers are educated, they will be more heavily invested in their children’s education; and more able to help them. Furthermore, if a woman is educated, it allows her to bring more income into the family- thus ensuring a better quality of living. An increase in disposable household income increases the likelihood of a family being able to send their children to school and being able to afford school supplies.
As well as benefitting the country economically, educating girls also has a huge positive impact on general health and wellbeing. The more girls are educated, the lower infant and maternal mortality rates are; as the women are better equipped and educated in how to give birth. Furthermore, they’re more likely to be able to afford healthcare if needed.
Women who are better educated also tend to have fewer children, and start families later in life than their less-educated counterparts; when they are better able to carry and care for their children. Such demographic changes can help to stem the population explosions seen in newly industrialised countries or less economically developed nations.
Sadly, Girls leave school for a multitude of social and economic reasons, but one of the main reasons is that their education is not valued as much by parents or family- because the economic benefits aren’t as easily recognized compared to boys. More simply put, when it is expected that women should stay at home and raise families; families and communities see little point educating them. However; many organisations are challenging this and the introduction of government policies, such as the removal of school fees; provides hope for the future of girls’ education.
Another appalling reason that girls drop out of school is sexual violence. Especially in rural areas, girls are often forced to travel up to 40 KM to school every day. If they don’t have the money for a bus or a motorcycle taxi, they may have to exchange sexual favors just to access education. Not only is this illegal, and extremely damaging for the girls, it puts them at a much higher risk of dropping out of school; as once a girl is pregnant, she cannot return to state education. To put this in perspective, the Human Rights Watch estimates that over 8,000 girls drop out of school each year because of pregnancy. Just this week, Tai Tanzania received word that in Mongola Secondary School in Morogoro, at least 10 girls have dropped out in the last 6 months due to pregnancy.
So, how can we help girls stay in school? How can we fulfil the Ghanian proverb, and educate a nation?
One of the most important ways we can help girls stay in school is to increase awareness of the value of educated girls and women, and the barriers they face in accessing this education. Barriers such as dealing with menstruation whilst at school should also be tackled. This is the main concern of Tai Tanzania's Jali Project, which teaches Menstrual Hygiene Management in Secondary Schools- especially those in disadvantaged areas.
Increasing parental and community engagement in girls’ education can ensure that girls aren’t pressured out of school. If a community understands the value of educating its’ girls, then they are much more likely to have a strong support system. Other initiatives include smaller, more local schools, to reduce the time taken and danger faced in accessing education. Alternatively, boarding houses for girls during the week to make access to education easier. One of the organisations working to eradicate these dangers facing girls is Tai Tanzania, an NGO run for youth, by youth. Tai currently has projects in Dar es Salaam, Morogoro and Iringa; to try and improve the likelihood of girls staying in schools.
However, these very necessary projects are not cheap! Therefore any donations to Tai would be very much appreciated, and as always, will ensure the future of Tanzanian Youth, even if that is one sanitary towel at a time.