In order to achieve gender equality, girls must be afforded the same opportunities as boys — and that can start with the education of their own bodies and sexuality.
Education and access to information are key in securing girls’ sexual health and in ensuring the health of their children.
When girls are educated, they recognize signs of illness and look for help. In fact, between 1990 and 2009, 2.1 million children under 5 years old were saved thanks to improvements to girls’ education.
And when they receive health education, girls are also less likely to contract HIV.
At the same time, staying in school prevents girls from marrying too young.
Secondary school as a whole is extremely important, as it takes place during the adolescent years, when many girls are at risk of sexual solicitation or violence. Staying in school provides a safe environment for girls — and it also delays marriage.
When a girl is forced into marriage at a young age, she is often coerced into sex, which leads to early pregnancy.
Not only will being pregnant at a young age limit her future potential for work, and ultimately her future livelihood and independence, but many young women’s bodies — or in some cases, girls’ — are simply not ready to give birth.
Adolescent mothers often face higher risks of complications, like eclampsia or infections, during pregnancy and childbirth that can be fatal. This not only puts the mother in grave danger but also gives the child a rocky start to life.
Unsafe abortions can also lead to lasting health problems.
Children born to an educated mother are more than twice as likely to survive past 5 years old, according to a 2011 UNESCO report.
Empowering both boys and girls with education about their bodies also teaches both sexes to respect one another.
“As boys and men see more educated girls in their midst, I believe they will be more likely to abandon their archaic perceptions of women as inferior and mere sexual objects with no meaningful role to play outside the home,” Chernor Bah, global education activist and former refugee from Sierra Leone, wrote in the Guardian.
The future of everything begins with mothers. When educated, mothers can reinforce the value of education for their children.
Investing in girls’ education is not only an investment in the personal safety of a girl, but an investment in the safety of society as a whole. Educated parents are less likely to allow their sons to go to extremist movements like Boko Haram or the Taliban, according to Bah.
When women are provided the same opportunities as men, it helps not only individual women, but society as a whole. If young women are able to live healthier lives, carry healthier children, and afforded the opportunity to their community, society as a whole wins.