- Girls continue to suffer from discrimination in access to schooling in most developing countries, according to a report issued today by UNESCO. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, gender parity in schools "remains a long way off."
Despite slow but significant progress achieved in the 1990s, girls continue to face "sharp discrimination in access to schooling" in a majority of developing countries, according to a UNESCO global report released today in New Delhi (India).
Gender parity in education remains a distant prospect in 54 countries including 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as Pakistan and India, says the latest 'Education For All Global Monitoring Report', the most comprehensive survey of education trends worldwide.
- While not a complete surprise, these results are obviously a cause for deep concern, says Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO. "Gender parity in education is a priority not only because inequality is a major infringement of fundamental human rights but because it represents an important obstacle to social and economic development."
UNESCO has developed a measurement for girls' access to primary school; the global Gender Parity Index (GPI), where a GPI of 1 indicates parity between the sexes.
Amongst the poorest performers in terms of girls' access to primary school, according to the report, are Chad with a GPI of 0.63, Yemen (0.63), Guinea-Bissau (0.67), Benin (0.68), Niger (0.68), Ethiopia (0.69), Central African Republic (0.69), Burkina Faso (0.71), Guinea (0.72), Mali (0.72), Liberia (0.73), and Pakistan (0.74).
The need to supplement family income is one of the main reasons why children do not attend classes, says the Report. According to the most recent estimates "18 percent of children aged 5-14 are economically active, amounting to some 211 million children, about half of whom are girls."
In addition, many more millions of children are involved in domestic labour, sometimes at great cost to their educational participation or success. "A much larger proportion of these children are girls than boys," says Christopher Colclough, the director of the Global Monitoring Report.
Cost is another major obstacle: school fees continue to be levied in at least 101 countries, in the form of tuition fees, the cost of books, compulsory school uniforms, and community contributions. In six African countries, states the report, "parents were found to contribute almost one third of the total annual costs of primary schooling."
There were also found numerous other barriers to girls' education including early marriage, HIV/AIDS, conflict, and violence in schools. In Nepal, for example, 40 percent of girls are married by the time they are 15. A similar situation is found in several Sahelian countries.
In Southern Africa and the Caribbean, girls between 15 and 19 are infected by HIV/AIDS at rates four to seven times higher than boys, "a disparity linked to widespread exploitation, sexual abuse and discriminatory practices," says the report.
It has been estimated that up to 100,000 girls directly participated in conflicts in at least 30 countries during the 1990s, as fighters, cooks, porters, spies, servants and sex slaves, and the vast majority of the world's estimated 25 million internally displaced persons are women and children.
The report further cites a recent study from South Africa, which shows that the threat of violence at school is "one of the most significant challenges to learning" there.
Classroom practices can also influence girls' participation rates in education, states the report, referring to a study of countries in sub-Saharan Africa which shows that girls were in general more involved than boys in such tasks as cleaning floors and fetching water.
In many countries, the extremely low number of women teachers, who could serve as role models for girls, was found to be another disadvantage, the UNESCO report concludes.
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