Around the world, kids living in impoverished places and in conflict zones have an extraordinarly difficult time getting to school — if schools exist at all.
For girls, that's even more true, as they are often kept home to help around the house, to save money, to work for extra income, or to be married off to another family.
This week, the ONE Campaign released a list of the places in the world where it is toughest to get an education for girls. At the top of the list was South Sudan, a country mired in conflict and poverty.
Approximately 73% of girls in South Sudan aged between 6 and 11 are not in school, at least partially due to civil war that has engulfed the country since declaring independence from Sudan, according to the One Campaign's report.
“This is not just about getting more girls into school, it’s about the women they grow up to be: educated, empowered and employed,” said Gayle Smith, president and CEO of the ONE Campaign.
South Sudan is followed by the Central African Republic, Niger, and Afghanistan — all of them conflicted, war-torn countries, according to Voice Of America. In fact, nine of the top 10 countries that ranked as the “Toughest Places for a Girl to Get an Education” were in Africa.
The rankings show the close link between poverty and gender inequality. In countries struggling with high rates of extreme poverty, girls faced a tougher time getting to school and staying there to complete their educations.
In wealthy countries, girls were more likely to finish their primary and secondary educations.
"Over 130 million girls are still out of school — that's over 130 million potential engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers and politicians whose leadership the world is missing out on," said Gayle Smith, president of the ONE Campaign. "It's a global crisis that perpetuates poverty."
There were exceptions to the rules: Burundi, a country still mired in poverty, ranked above countries with higher GDPs.
“Poor countries aren't destined to perform poorly,” the report states.
Low rates of primary school completion and high disparities in gender equality, geographic, and wealth disparities pose enormous challenges to the development of South Sudan. According to UNICEF, the completion rate in primary schools is less than 10%, one of the lowest in the world. Gender equality is another challenge, with only 33% of girls in schools.
Elsewhere in the world, thousands of girls are kept home from school due to early marriage, dangerous conditions that face them traveling to class, and the need to help with chores at home.
Some countries have taken major strides to increase the number of girls in school. In Afghanistan, which ranked fourth on the list, more than 9 million students are enrolled in schools, 40% of whom are girls, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which Afghan girls attend community-based education classes.
In 2002, only an estimated 1 million children, mostly boys, attended school in Afghanistan, while girls were excluded from educational opportunities. In 2016-2017, with the support of USAID establishing 4,055 community-based education classes, over 119,000 children in rural areas, and over 58,000 girls now have access to education, according to USAID.
Across the globe, gender inequality in education not only stifles the development of women, but the progress of their country as a whole, when they’re deprived of learning to build a better future and the ability to contribute to their families and communities.
"Extreme poverty and gender inequity drive the injustice that not only keeps girls out of school, but forces them into child marriages," Fiona Mavhinga told Voice of America, a lawyer and one of the first girls in Zimbabwe supported by international educational charity Camfed to go to university.
Without an education young woman are "locked away from a better future," she said.
Global Citizen campaigns to level the law by amending gender discriminatory policies. You can take action here and join the fight to put an end to gender inequality now.