Vansa loves school. Her eyes lit up as she told me about how she dreamed of becoming a physician so she could help her community of Ggaba, a low-income area just south of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. “I’m smarter than the boys in my class,” the 13-year-old stated proudly, “and I get better marks, too.”
But, as the eldest of six siblings, she was expected to help her mother sell goods at the market each morning, and take care of her younger sisters and brothers in the evenings. The quality of education at public secondary schools in her area was so poor that the only option would be to attend a private school outside her district for high school. She feared she would not be able to stay in school beyond the following year, since school fees were unaffordable to her family and would take her away from her income-earning and care-taking duties. Despite her high grades and ambitions, the boys in her family were prioritized for further education.
Vansa’s story is all too common, especially in the developing world. During adolescence, factors such as menstruation, gender-based violence, and early pregnancy and marriage force many girls to drop out of school. Other obstacles prevent girls from even making it to school in the first place, including poverty, disability, cultural practices, and being affected by conflict or emergencies.
I met Vansa in 2014, while working for BRAC
, a nonprofit group working to fight poverty. While gender parity in education has improved, the U.S. government estimates that more than 62 million girls are missing
from classrooms worldwide.
A 2014 report
from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
shows that in Sub-Saharan Africa, boys are expected to achieve universal primary completion by 2046. However, there will only be universal primary completion for the region's poorest girls by 2086.
Improving access to education for girls across the globe requires action and progress on multiple fronts. Ahead, a look at some of the factors keeping girls out of school today.