Breast-ironing. Body-shaming. Rape. Unequal pay and job positions. The right to own property. The right to own themselves. The ability to legally stand up against abuse. These are all things that women around the world struggle with on a daily basis. In a male-centric world, it is an undeniable fact that women today are yet to stand equal to their male counterparts in the workforce and at home. Globally, women make up just 22% of parliamentarians (source: 1). Violence against women and girls is an issue on a global scale, affecting 1 in 3 women around the world (source: 2), and only 7.4% of countries have had female heads of states over the past half a century (source: 3).
Education has had a large role to play in women’s development. With a growing number of girls and women pursuing higher education and powerful roles in the workplace, multiple programs for women’s empowerment have been born. Women who have fought for their success are now paving the way for the next generation. As a result, over the past decade, the gap in educational inequality in the Western world has lessened significantly. In 1990, about 1/4 of women aged 25 to 54 had not earned a high school diploma and only 14% of them had a university degree. By 2009, this number had doubled, as more and more young women were able to pursue a university degree. In 2009, 34% of women in this age range had a bachelor’s degree at the least, with men from 25 to 54 years old coming in at 26%. These numbers have only improved over time, for both men in women in developed countries.
However, the fight for educational gender equality is not over. Educational inequality in developing countries is still alive and well, and many issues that women worldwide face come back to education. Not only is women’s education and empowerment an intrinsic right, it is also the best way to combat poverty, rape, gender inequality, body-shaming, and abuse.
Over the past decade we’ve seen an increase in the number of women’s educational programs. The Advice Project’s Global Leadership and Women’s Empowerment Summit is one such program, and was founded in order to foster awareness of educational equality, create a peaceful learning community once a year, and to bring young girls and women from around the world to share their experiences and learn to partner problems with solutions.
This summer, The Advice Project held it’s first annual Global Leadership and Women’s Empowerment Summit in Peru. Brought together by the belief that there’s no time like the present to work towards equality for all, 12 teen girls and women made their way to the Amazon rainforest from Cameroon, New York City, and Canada. The Advice Project embraced diversity in its program, inviting girls of different backgrounds from Canada, the States, and Cameroon. Hosted at Inotawa Eco-Lodge on the Tambopata River, The Advice Project and its group discussed gender identity, breast-ironing in Cameroon, women’s education, and rainforest conservation, among other topics. The girls spent their days hiking, volunteering at the eco-lodge, participating in classes, and knuckling down in empowering writing workshops. Leaping headfirst into the multifaceted issues revolving around women’s rights, they embraced new ideas, debated solutions, created essays meant to shake the world, and went home with the tools they needed to make a difference. The Advice Project plans to hold its next annual Summit in Ireland.
On a larger scale, Girls Inc. is another program designed to inspire, empower, and embolden girls. Focusing primarily on girls in low-income areas of Canada and the U.S., Girls Inc. works to provide research-based educational programs to thousands of girls. Their programs focus on a wide range of topics, from math and science education to adolescent health and sports participation. Girls Inc. also provides drug abuse and violence prevention classes. This program has taken many steps, both legal and personal, towards making the world a better place for the next generation of girls. It focuses on girls’ health, education, and welfare, and has been active since the Industrial Revolution.
Thanks to Girls Inc. and other women’s rights programs, educational equality in the States and Canada has improved significantly. But programs that work with women’s rights on an international scale still have a long way to go. Groups like Educate Girls Globally (EGG) work internationally to give all girls access to basic education, giving them the tools they need to break the cycle of poverty. Educate Girls Globally works primarily with schools in India, reaching nearly 7,000 schools by 2014. It continues to expand. One of the primary benefits of EGG’s work is that it encourages a creative, active frame of mind in the girls who participate in its programs. This active frame of mind enables them to take action in their own lives and create change.
UNFPA, otherwise known as The United Nations Population Fund, addresses another aspect of women’s rights and educational equality. UNFPA works with 158 countries to provide women with easy access to sexual health workshops, birth control, and pregnancy care. It writes on its website that, “in this new century, some 225 million women who want to avoid or delay childbearing still lack access to the quality services and supplies needed to manage their fertility." This is an important area of concern in developing countries, where sexual health education is often flawed or unavailable, and women’s bodies are stigmatized and misunderstood. The lack of adequate sexual healthcare for women in developing countries often results in early pregnancy, maternal death and disability, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
These are just a few of the programs that exist to provide women with the resources they need to enjoy a higher quality of life. But while significant progress has been made in recent decades towards education for all women, there can be no doubt that the fight for equality is not over. Until all women have access to educational programs, sexual health care, and the power to stand beside men as equals, there will continue to be a need for these programs on both an international and national level. The diversity of these programs allows women to address all educational issues of inequality that may affect them, and to focus on the unique needs of women and girls from different countries and walks of life. Women’s rights programs have brought educational equality a long way, but there is yet an equally long way to go.
source 1: Inter-Parliamentary Union http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm)
source 2: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 2013 Gender Violence Report http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2013/gender_violence_report.html)
Source 3: The Global Gender Gap Report 2013, World Economic Forum http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2013.pdf
Breast ironing: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/breast-ironing-girls-have-chests-flattened-out-to-disguise-the-onset-of-puberty-8842435.html
The Advice Project: http://www.advicetomy13yearoldself.org
Inotawa Lodge: https://www.peruforless.com/hotels/puerto-maldonado-lodges/#inotawa-lodge