|Courtesy of UNESCO|
Girls are the best indicator of poverty as they are the most marginalized population, as such it is through the plight of girls that the global community has realized that poverty prohibits educational attainment. Access to education enables growth physically, mentally, and socially in ways that cannot be met through other avenues. The United Nations and participating State parties have nearly reached consensus to protect and work towards universal education as explicitly stated under the Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 28 paragraph 1 section (a): “Make primary education compulsory and available free to all. (OHCHR, 1989)”. While education is a right, it is not addressed under one universal mandate. The girl child needs the support of each government to commit to change policies to improve the educational system by addressing poverty.
A wide variety of global statistics display the plight and insurmountable barriers impeding girls from achieving their right to an education. It is estimated that 54% of the 72 million children out of school are girls (EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2010). While some communities need support for both sexes to attend school, gender parity would cut the number of girls out of school by over 6 million. In countless countries, girls that have not shown potential to their guardians by the time they complete primary education are pulled from school to work or marry. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 12 million girls may never enroll in school. In Yemen, nearly 80% of girls out of school are unlikely ever to enroll, compared with 36% of boys. Turkey faces cultural barriers in addition to poverty that prevents 43% of Kurdish-speaking girls from receiving more than two years of education. Similarly, 97% of Hausa-speaking Nigerian girls from impoverished homes have less than two years’ education. As of 2006. Pakistani girls accounted for 60% of out-of school children (Global Campaign for Education, 2010).
It is not frivolous to invest in girls when it is proven that educated women are more influential to their communities. Illiteracy is directly correlated to unemployment, in addressing issues of unemployment worldwide, two thirds of the 759 million adults that are illiterate are women. Women aged 25-34 in Bangladesh have illiteracy rates 32% higher than men in the same age group. In Afghanistan, 87% of women were illiterate in 2000. In Chad, Ethiopia and Mali, women are 1.5 times more likely than men to be illiterate. In Iran, unemployment rates among women aged 20 to 24 are twice the level of men the same age group (Global Campaign for Education, 2010). Millions of women that are not living to their fullest potential and cannot contribute their optimum amount to their community. Learning needs to start with children to improve the lives of adults, and it is our responsibility to provide the tools for success.
Several countries have implemented local and federal policies that have improved girl’s access to education. Established federally in 2003, Brazil established Bolsa Familia, also referred to as Bolsa Escola or the family grant. This federal welfare program provides financial aid to families living in poverty with children of age to attend primary or secondary education on the condition children have consistent attendance in school and are up to date on vaccines. Families earning less than 140 reais per capita ($73) a month receive a monthly payment of 22 reais ($12) per child. Families whose per-capita income is less than 70 reais per month, the program gives an additional flat sum of 68 reais per month. Poverty has decreased 27.7% since the program’s inception with more than 12 million families benefiting (Duffy, 2010).
Similarly, Mexico established Oportunidades. The program provides a cash transfer directly to families living in poverty with children. The funds are to be used to supplement the cost of food, vaccines, and dietary needs. By 2006, the program was responsible for aiding one-quarter of Mexico’s population. The stipulations to receiving the stipend include perfect attendance in primary and secondary schooling and recognizing that the funds go directly to the matriarch of the family (World bank, n.d.).
Bangladesh established the Food for Education Program in 1993 which targeted the enrollment rate and consistent attendance of children. The program provided landless and very poor children with a monthly allocation of wheat or rice for their family for regular attendance. In addition, the Primary Education Stipend Program introduced bank-mediated disbursement procedures fit to cover over 5.5 million students (Tietjen, 2003). As of 2002, “Households of qualifying pupils will receive 100 taka (about $1.76) per month for one pupil, not to exceed 1200 taka annually, and 125 taka per month for more than one pupil, not to exceed 1500 taka annually. (World Bank, 2003)”
It is a priority of the United Nation’s mission to promote academic programs addressing girl’s rights to access primary and secondary education for it is directly correlated to all eight Millennium Development Goals. Within the MDGs is goal number two, achievement of universal primary education. Mr. Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, stated that “Universal primary education cannot be achieved without extending schooling to those currently excluded, the poorest and the most marginalized children (UNICEF, 2010).” By implementing a universal policy, countries are acknowledging that groups who are marginalized and excluded must be a priority concern when considering the impact of social policy on those living in poverty. Expenditure by the state party to appropriately implement the policy is reliant on true and thorough assessment and allocation of an appropriate budget based on analysis of poverty specific to the country. The debate about the effectiveness of the stipend programs is ominous. Some argue that giving tangible items such as food, clothing, textbooks, and vaccines would be better then money because the money is ill spent. Others argue that tangible items would be held hostage from the children and sold off anyway. However, the argument still stands that by implementing this program access to education is broadened which will create a greater pool of competent and effective leaders in society. There is a positive correlation between supporting school attendance and successful employment. Education should be geared to the development of potential and to equipping the individual with skills needed for employment. Decent work and supportive income are the best means for enabling families to move out of poverty. It is imperative that the micro impact be analyzed even as the program itself is a marco response to girl’s plight. Girls are young women who will grow up to be mothers of children, and leaders of the community, corporations, and countries. There is no profession left unturned by women, especially social work. It is our right as adults, caretakers, educators, government officials, presidents, and friends to help girls develop to their full potential. Girls who are not counted do not count. It is our duty to account for every girl.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm
Duffy, G. (25 May 2010) Family friendly: Brazil's scheme to tackle poverty. BBC News. Education for All Global Monitoring Report. (2010) reaching the marginalized. Retrieved from: http://www.unesco.org/en/efareport/reports/2010-marginalization/
Global Campaign for Education. (2010). Today is international women’s day: Facts & Figures. Retrieved from: http://www.campaignforeducation.org/en/today-is-international-womens-day
Khandker, S., M. Pitt and N. Fuwa, The World Bank (March 2003). Subsidy to Promote Girls’ Secondary Education: The Female Stipend Program in Bangladesh. Retrieved from: http://www.h.chiba-u.ac.jp/mkt/revised%20fssap%20paper9b.pdf
Tietjen, K. 2003. “The Bangladesh Primary Education Stipend Project: A Descriptive Analysis. Retrieved from: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EDUCATION/Resources/278200-1099079877269/547664-1099080014368/BangladeshStipend.pdf
United Nations (n.d.) We can end poverty 2015 Millennium Development Goals; A gateway to the UN system’s work on the MDGs. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml
UNICEF (7 September 2010) Focus on world’s disadvantaged children can save millions of lives. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=35832&Cr=UNICEF&Cr1=
World Bank. (November 2002) Bangladesh, improving governance for reducing poverty. Retrieved from: http://library.bracu.ac.bd/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=5381&shelfbrowse_itemnumber=5242
World Bank (n.d.) Shanghai Poverty Conference: Case Study Summary. Mexico’s Oportunidades Program. Retrieved from: http://info.worldbank.org/etools/docs/reducingpoverty/case/119/summary/MexicoOportunidades%20Summary.pdf
** re-cited/formatted from academic posting at IASSW