Girls' education in South Asia

Girls' education in South Asia

Girls education in South Asia

South Asia has the highest number of out-of-school girls in the world. This paper outlines some of the issues confronting practitioners, policy makers, and researchers in girls’ education in South Asia, and explores what they can do to move towards high-quality and gender-equitable education for all.

This paper considers commonalties and diversities across the region, and looks at how girls are faring in the education systems. It notes that while there has been marked progress within the region, and improvements in most countries, much more effort is needed to reach internationally agreed targets.

Gender specific issues in education include:

  • missing girls and women: there are 50 million fewer women in South Asia today than there should be. If India succeeds in providing education for all, it will be impossible to achieve parity of enrolment in the near future because of these artificial disparities in the demographic profile. However achieving quality education for all will in itself be a strong move towards eliminating the societal prejudices against women
  • marriage: despite laws against the practice, child marriage is common throughout South Asia, and it effectively puts a stop to the educational progress of many girls
  • bodily integrity: the issue of bodily integrity or sexual harassment becomes more urgent and oppressive the older a girl gets. A girl runs the risk of being harassed, assaulted, abducted, or even murdered on the way to or from school, and she is by no means free from risk within the school. For this reason, many girls are withdrawn from school when they reach puberty. Girls who live at some distance from the school are particularly vulnerable; the further they have to travel to school, the more remote the area, the greater the potential risk
  • Nutrition: in many parts of South Asia, women and girls are expected to eat least and to eat last. Malnutrition of course affects attentiveness and performance in school. In addition, many children leave school without learning enough about nutrition, and so traditions such as not eating ‘rich’ food during menstruation prevail, contributing to widespread anaemia
  • Teachers: it is generally assumed that women teachers provide good role models for girls in school; they allay parents’ fears of security issues within the school, and their presence shows that the teaching profession is a suitable aspiration for girls currently in school. For some, the proportion of women teachers in the system is an indicator of progress, and there are fewer women teachers in countries with high gender disparities.
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