‘One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.’
‘So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.’
Malala Yousafzai – UN Youth Assembly 2013 Speech
‘Education is one of the most important means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence’ to ensure that girls participate in the development of their own country. This belief underlines the objectives of the UN’s Third Millennium Development Goal which seeks to ‘promote gender equality and empower women’ to ultimately eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education at all levels of education no later than 2015. Although, this target seems vastly over-ambitious and set to fail, its mission still holds value. This is because girl’s education is a crucial component to achieving gender equality. Globally, women are not equal to men in many societies due to unequal participation in government, finance, religion and cultural traditions. In a speech from Sarah Brown in an address to the Index on Censorship Magazine she exclaimed that ‘World leaders need to deliver on their pledges to institute universal primary education — especially for girls — if the world wants to empower the next generation’ as a woman who can read can lead.’
Although the international community commits to empowering girls’ through education, focus on improving gender equality and respect should arguably be centred on the domestic sphere in order to understand why girls are restricted from education.
Educating a girl can transform her chances in life, promote independence and self-reliance, and help to protect her from abuse. For example, research has shown that an education affords women greater economic opportunities and awareness of rights so that they may escape domestic violence and/or avoid entering into abusive relationships. However it is one thing to be economically empowered or given more opportunities to pursue higher ambitions, the problem still centres around traditions and family values that determine many women’s access to education. For example, in North-West Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai comments on the power of the Pashtunwali code which values Purdah an Islamic belief upheld in more traditional areas, where women are sought to be honoured through privacy. Purdah is normally seen visually as either veiling or women being escorted around by male family members. This means that girls are unable to go to school on their own as most of the men are out working. When we address the issue of gender respect in girl’s education the first obstacle is not within the school walls but within the family homes of girls around the world. Education is hailed as the only sustainable tool to improving a countries economic status however when families are faced with either allowing their daughters to learn to read or providing an income, many rationally choose finance.