By Sandra Hasenauer
School isn’t just about grades. It’s about economic empowerment, delaying marriage and childbirth for girls (which also has an effect on economic empowerment as well as maternal and infant health), and building entire communities. Is it any wonder education is so important?
And yet, significant percentages of girls are still absent from schools the world over. Frankly, significant percentages of children–female and male–are absent from schools, but girls are far more likely to be kept out of school than boys in many parts of the world. Girls are often kept home to help mothers with meals, childcare of younger siblings, and other household duties. Girls stay home due to their menstrual cycles and lack of adequate supplies, missing days out of every month and putting them far behind their male counterparts. Girls are often married very young, and kept out of school to attend to their husbands’ households. Girls are not seen as worth the expense of education. There’s myriad reasons, all with the same end result: Girls are not in school and are therefore most likely trapped in a generational cycle of poverty.
Those of us living in the U.S. or any Western country may feel self-congratulatory. “Well, we don’t have that problem–our girls are in school!” we may say. And, of course, we’d mostly be right. In fact, recent statistics have shown that in many ways, girls are doing marginally better than boys in U.S. schools. That is, they’re doing better until you look at the statistics of teen pregnancies. When a girl gets pregnant, she’s far more likely to drop out of school, subsequently having fewer future employment prospects, higher risk for health and nutrition issues for both her and her child, and we begin to see the cycle of poverty kick into gear again. Happily, statistics for teen pregnancy have been dropping in recent years, although they’re still too high. Additionally, girls are often subject to sexual harrassment and bullying that can keep them underperforming; boys experience the same thing. Addressing sexual harrassment and bullying helps all students.
How can we help? Globally, we can be involved in advocacy efforts and support organizations working on equitable access to education and improving education standards the world over. Spread the word, pay attention, pray for all children’s access to education–especially girls where they experience inequality.
In the U.S., we can continue to encourage girls in their leadership development and navigating life’s challenges. Mentoring, developing girls’ ministries in your faith community, encouraging girls to have leadership in your women’s and congregational ministries–all of these things support girls’ education and girls’ development.
We can also launch or volunteer with organizations supporting teen moms–help them stay in school or get their GEDs, learn good parenting skills and important nutrition and health practices for themselves and their children, feel like they have a future.
And we can pray. Add girls’ education to your prayer list on a regular basis, because we know prayer transforms the world.
American Baptist Women’s Ministries has posted information on our website about the SDGs and has ideas or other resources available to help you think through how you or your faith community could work on these issues locally as well as globally.