Being a girl is not always easy. Especially when it comes to school. We know beyond a doubt the benefits of girls education. But obstacles are everywhere and new ones arrive at every age. 

Let's take a look at some of the barriers girls face as they grow up:

What's a girl gotta do at AGE 2?

Image: Flickr: World Bank

Even before girls start school, there are health risks for children living in poverty that make it hard to grow up healthy enough to go to school. Malnutrition, waterborne and foodborne illness (caused by dirty water and lack of sanitation) are all barriers children in extreme poverty must overcome before they even start school. For example, diarrhoeal disease kills over2 million people each year, many of them children. So a girl’s gotta battle these diseases before she even walks into the classroom.

What's a girl gotta do at AGE 5?

Image: Flickr: World Bank

In a perfect world no family would have to choose which child to send to school. When global poverty comes to an end, that choice will also end. But sadly, in many poor countries a five-year-old girl must compete with male relatives to get into school. In societies where education for boys is valued more, families that cannot afford to send all children to school must decide which children to send to school. Education for boys is valued more because of cultural stigmas in some cultures--boys are the breadwinners, women are the domestic caretakers, etc. But investing in girls education has far-reaching benefits ranging from closing the gender gap to lower infant mortality rates! Also, equal access to jobs for men and women would help close the gap in education between genders.

Even without gender constraints a girl can still encounter the same challenges from when she was 2. Malnutrition can cause weakness and make walking to school and focusing in the classroom very difficult. But programs that provide free lunches incentivize families to send girls to school and decrease malnutrition.

What's a girl gotta do at AGE 8?

Image: Flickr: World Bank

Ok, she made it through the start of primary school! Woo–hoo! But the journey is not over. What happens when a family member is injured at work and the family cannot afford to buy food, or keep their home with their current income?

Suddenly, the family needs more income and often children, especially girls, leave school for domestic or even external labor. When a family has an extremely low income, any event such as sickness or natural disasters can have extreme and long-term consequences.

Re-building schools, roads, and transportation so that girls can still safely get to school when a natural disaster occurs is key for girls around the world to get an education. In addition, fair work conditions and incomes can help those in poverty obtain better rights so child labor never has to be an answer.

What's a girl gotta do at AGE 12?

Image: Flickr: World Bank

This can feel like a super awkward age to be in school–or to be anywhere really. But it's important to stay in school no matter how uncomfortable adolescence becomes. However, lack of sanitation, sanitary products, and education on how to manage menstruation cycles keep girls out of school.

A girl at this age needs a school with sanitation, clean water and also the support and guidance of female role models to encourage her to finish school. This is such an important age for girls to understand the importance of their own education because the obstacles to education get more challenging with each coming year.

What's a girl gotta do at AGE 15?

Image: Flickr: World Bank

What holds back a fifteen-year-old girl from finishing school? At this age, she's so close! But girls' rates for entering and completing secondary school is lower than it is for boys. Maybe it has something to do with the previous obstacles that challenged girls up until this point? And when they are combined with barriers like child marriage, school fees and pregnancy, this age becomes the hardest for girls trying to stay in school. 

Secondary schools in developing countries often impose school fees. These fees are part of the reason that over 58 million children cannot access education. School fees are also a large barrier to girls in secondary school.

Early marriage is another barrier that girls at this age face. Child marriage happens because of poverty and cultural reasons. Parents that cannot afford to continue their daughter's educations view early marriage as the next best option. This happens especially in rural areas where walking to and from school is not safe.

Pregnancy and stereotypes surrounding teenage pregnancy contribute to girls dropping out of school at this age too. Sexual education, access to birth control, and programs that promote education for young mothers can help keep girls in school at this age. In Malawi, a re-education program for young mothers brought over 300 girls and women back to school. It's important to keep girls in school but also to let girls know it's never too late to complete their education.

What's a girl gotta do to at AGE 18?

Image: Flickr: Nazareth College

So a girl's made it all the way through secondary school and completed her degree. She's done right? She's eighteen so she can get married and pass on knowledge from her education to her children. Not quite yet. She deserves access to higher education too!

Lack of female role models, high tuition costs, gender inequality in the labor force and pressure to marry are just some of the things keeping girls out of higher education. Especially when girls receive little support in STEM fields in secondary school, pursuing a degree in higher education for these fields can seem almost impossible. Supporting girls before they get to this point in STEM fields can help provide the world with more awesome female scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. Did you know that six women created the programs for the world's first functioning general -purpose computer? And while girls are starting to take over tech-fields, it's not enough.

Girls face many challenges when it comes to accessing and being supported through higher education. There's a lot a girl's gotta do to get to school and through school. And there's a lot that can be done to help, too. Creating programs that support girls in all fields of study and finding ways to get girls and women to complete school are steps toward ending gender inequality and extreme poverty.

TAKE ACTION NOW by writing an email to encourage Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg to invest in education. Together we can provide access to education for all girls around the world!


Defeat Poverty

What's a girl gotta do to get to school?

By Meghan Werft