This article was submitted to News-Decoder’s recent essay/reporting contest for students in our partner academic institutions. To read other submissions, click here.

Afghan girls study at a high school in Kabul, Afghanistan, 16 October 2003. Girls were banned from going to school during the Taliban regime. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

By Jane Greenip

College. It’s the first word I hear out of my relatives’ mouths right now, the moment I walk into the room.

I get grilled on where I’m going, what I want to study, whether I am going to join Greek life. Will I play field hockey at college?

I don’t know the answers to any of these. But what I do know is that I’m lucky enough to be able to afford and be allowed to go to college, while women in certain countries can’t even attempt to do so.

Although women in the United States are still paid less than men for the same work, we at least have the opportunity to pursue a higher education. And while one of the world’s superpowers sends many of its girls to college, many other countries are still stuck in the idea that women serve the sole purpose of tending to the home.

In Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, four out of every 10 girls are married before they reach the age of 18.

“Sierra Leone is one of the hardest places in the world where you can try to achieve gender equality,” Sean Maguire of Plan International, a not-for-profit that promotes the safeguard of children around the world, told a News-Decoder webinar last year.

“Despite that, girls are desperate, absolutely desperate, to stay in education because they know that if they can stay in education, it is their best and possibly only way out of poverty and their best way of avoiding marriage to an older and often violent man,” Maguire said.

Leaving dreams behind

This problem certainly isn’t just in Sierra Leone. Many female refugees from Syria to Iraq assume that they have given up the chance to obtain an education.

“When I left, I thought I left my dreams behind in Damascus,” a Syrian refugee named Nergez told the the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education last year.

According to the Malala Fund, of the more than 56,000 Syrian school-age refugee children in Iraq, one third of these refugee girls are not in school.

While Nergez has been helped by the United Nations refugee agency to continue her education, many girls are less fortunate.

In 1979, the UN established the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which established an international bill of rights for women, including the right to education.

According to the Right to Education Initiative, the Convention “promotes gender equality endowing every woman with equal rights as those of man in the field of education, from pre-school to higher technical education.”

Despite this international agreement, women around the world are discriminated against and often denied education, legal rights and career opportunities.

We need to do more to ensure that CEDAW is not just words on a page. Organizations like the Malala Fund, CARE and Equality Now are working to address the problem.

If enough people support them in their efforts, perhaps the day will come when every girl gets to have the same “worries” about college that I do.

(Edited by Betty Wong)

Jane Greenip is 17 years old and currently in her last year at La Jolla Country Day School in California. She enjoys reading and drawing in her free time and is hoping to do her university studies on the U.S. East Coast.

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