Sulemana Shukura teaching in a school in Ghana.
(Photo: Jacob Stærk)
Girls belong in the kitchen.
Sulemana Shukura is no stranger to comments like this. She, a teacher in Ghana, often hears parents give reasons like this to explain why their girls are not in school. Unfortunately, it is not only cultural sentiments like these that are detrimental to girls’ futures. Rising hunger and poverty in South Sudan in recent years, for instance, have led more and more desperate families to marry their daughters off young in exchange for food. Such inequality and injustice is one of the main reasons why 76 per cent of South Sudanese girls are out of school.
School fees too can stop children from going to school, especially girls. In Kenya, a boy from a rich family has a one in three chance of continuing his studies beyond secondary school. A girl from a poor family, however, has a one in 250 chance of doing so.
This pandemic, as it were, is not simply affecting the select few – the human cost of inequality is devastating and can be felt globally. In fact, today 262 million children, the majority of them girls, are not allowed to go to school. Inequality not only affects girls’ access to education but continues on as they grow up. Poor women and girls, for instance, are often relegated the responsibility of care work – millions of hours of unpaid work that steals time from them and leaves them unable to take up educational, political and economic opportunities.
Pervasive problems like gender inequality must be dealt with resolutely. Oxfam is thus urging governments to, among other things, ensure the richest pay their fair of tax and deliver universal free health care, education and other public services that are accessible to all, especially women and girls. It is also working with governments to end injustices like child marriage.
In late January, leaders of all kinds joined the World Economic Forum to talk about issues like inequality, which disproportionately affects women and girls. Against this backdrop and having just observed International Women’s Day last week, it is a good time to reflect on how far we have come and how much further we still need to go to ensure women and girls all over the world enjoy their human rights.