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The Sad and Ugly Truth

The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in terms of dignity and rights. The sad reality is that for more than half the human race i.e. women and girls these are little more than empty words. According to Article 26 of the Declaration everybody has a right to an education but the ugly truth is, not everybody is given the opportunity to make this right a reality. Women and girls (despite accounting for over half of the world population) still account for roughly more than half of those who have little or limited access to education. According to the Global Issues website, in 2005 girls accounted for 57% of the 72 million primary age children out of school in developing countries.

There are many barriers which prevent girls from accessing education the most common of which are gender biases/discrimination, cultural traditions and ignorance's, poverty and economic hardship. In some places there is even a lack of adequate facilities and/or a proper educational system or curriculum, a prime example would be Sub Saharan Africa. Its fair to say the barriers are inter- linked and usually there is no single cause or reason for girls being poorly educated but there is normally a vicious and repetitive, destructive cycle of multiple problems.

Over the last decade there has been immense progress made in terms of girls education in my community but there still remains a lot ot be done. The general norm was for girls to just complete schooling to the age of sixteen, not because their family or the community wanted them too but purely because it was compulsory under British law. Its only in the few years that it has become acceptable for girls to study further and to progress career wise. It's important to note that this lack of emphasis and recognition of education and its value, wasn't just confined to girls but was in fact a cultural norm for all the community up and till about 1990.

This was due to the background of the community which was of a largely immigrant nature from South Asia. Therefore the emphasis was on working and saving money to send back home to poor relatives and education was seen to be irrelevant. There was also a lot of ignorance and gender biases i.e. that a women’s role was to look after the home and children while it was the man’s job to provide for his family and to go out to work. The value and worth of women was grossly underestimated and they were not seen to be as capable or intelligent as and even inferior to their male counterparts, There was a definite lack of respect for girls and women, who generally had very little confidence and aspirations given the lack of successful role models to inspire and motivate them.

By the mid 1990‘s, slowly things began to change as girls and women began to fight for their right to have an education. This was partly due to the rise of a new generation of British born Asians, who were modern and westernized in the way they lived and thought. For instance they had totally different aims and aspirations to their parents in that they were more aware of the wider world and wanted to make their own impact on it. The greatest challenge to girls accessing education in my community was and remains cultural ignorance and biased traditions.

The barrieres mentioned above have had a profound and lasting negative effect on me and the wider community in a number of clearly evident ways. Firstly although many girls have been able to access education, it has been dictated by cultural ignorance and backward traditions. For instance only being able to attend institutions close to home (a small market town in Yorkshire!)has meant that many girls have had to compromise on the quality and level of education they can obtain. There is still a lot of bias in the subjects which girls can or should study, for example medicine, law and teaching are seen to be the most appropriate subjects while STEM subjects are seen to be for males only. Arts and literature course are considered a waste of time and politics is seen as a no go area. Many in the community still believe women have no role to play in government and decision making.

There is no simple or easy solution to overcoming these barriers, I believe the best course of action is to try and change the stereotypical views of the community. The best way to do this is to challenge the ignorant norms by being brave and bold and following what your passionate about. My vision is to improve the lives of girls in other communities in areas such as Asia and Africa as they need and deserve it more. The girls in my community are thankfully already improving their lives albeit slowly but change is better late than never!

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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aimeeknight's picture

Thank you, for giving us a

Thank you, for giving us a clear view of the past and present barriers to a girl's education. I agree with you, "There is no simple or easy solution to overcoming these barriers." I look forward to your future posts and your presentation of experience in overcoming these barriers. Keep up the great work!

"One shoe can change a life" ~ Cinderella

Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti's picture

Wonderful work


Excellent work. I truly enjoyed reading the piece and felt that your writing was strong and clear. While reading, I had a number of interesting questions emerge. For instance, I would be interested to know what a right to education might look like more universally. I am sympathetic to the argument of the article, but for the sake of being a devil's advocate, does the right to education include secondary school (for example)?

What changed in the late 1980's that led to a greater emphasis on continuing education? Do you think that South Asian influence on the cultural biases of British norms therefore were mostly economic?

What Westernized traditions and cultures are biased? Do we appropriate biases when we appropriate new cultural aspirations and norms?

Thank you for such a rich article. You write with style and substance. It was a pleasure to read!

tiffany_anne's picture

Thank You!

This was a well-written and very enjoyable read, thank you for sharing. I would love to hear more about your personal story, and how you challenge norms and expectations, and what hurdles you face on the way. Please keep pushing forward and documenting your thoughts, I think you will do great things.


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