Women and education

Child and blackboard

„The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.“ [1]
(Sydney J. Harris)

When you look into a mirror you can only see yourself and the little part of the world behind you. Otherwise, when you look through a window you are able to see the horizon, the sky, trees and the street you can walk along.
Until now, many educational windows are still closed for a great amount of African women; windows that symbolize career opportunities, protection against exploitation, the chance to emancipate themselves, the possibility to develop and to provide a basis for a better life.
The only way to turn all the mirrors of suppression and external determination into windows is education! ...

Right to education

The Declaration of Human Rights contains among various others the right to education.
Nevertheless this right is not observed in many countries all over the world, due to a lack of resources for building schools and due to the absence of teachers or because of cultural reasons.

Africa is an example for the disregard of the right to education. There a great percentage of children is excluded from the right to education; about 55 percent of the children who do not go to school are female. [2]

In order to point out some of the reasons why girls aren’t allowed to go to school you could answer the question
“Why are women and girls often excluded from the access to (higher) education?”
One reason, why girls often cannot go to school is, that education is not accepted as an essential right in many countries of Africa; and that is why there is not enough money spent for building schools or to pay for teachers.

Girls – unworthy to be educated?

Child and desk

Another point is the traditional role of girls and women in African society.Their duty is to take care of the children and the household. And many fathers do not send their daughters to school for that reason and because they think that the education of girls is not as important as the education of boys. Due to the tradition that daughters get married at a young age and therefore do not have the possibility to take care of their parents when they get old, there is no necessity to spend money on one´s daughter´s education.

The conviction of many African people that girls are stupid and therefore education is wasted on girls also hinders many girls from going to school.
And even if there were schools many parents would not let their daughter go, fearing that their daughter would get harmed on her way to school.

To understand the urgency of fighting against the contravention of the right to education, it is important to realize the answer to the question “Why is education so important for women in Africa?”

Escape from suppression

First of all education would enable women to question the system of gender-related division of labor and the dependence of a woman on her husband. If women understood their suppressed and unjust situation and role in society -respectively in their families-, they would consequently start to fight this injustice and offer their children – especially their daughters – more freedom of action and a greater range of self-determination.
That would entail an opportunity for the daughters to live a more unconstrained life than their mothers have and an opportunity to break out of this inflexible system of suppression.
In addition to that mothers, who are educated, would also impart a lot of their knowledge to their children and therefore show them how important education is.
They would give their children confidence and would probably take care that they can go to school, too.
Besides that, women, who are able to read and to calculate, can protect themselves from fraud when they buy food or other goods.
Another positive consequence would be, that higher educated women can participate in politics and economics and be a role model for many other African girls.

Education – a basis of health

Furthermore, if more girls and women in Africa were enlightened on sexual matters and on the risk of a the possible infection with HIV or other venereal diseases, they would get to know how to prevent these diseases and therefore begin to preserve their health and help to slow down the spreading of HIV and additionally do a more conscious family planning.

Education – a chance of survival

Basic knowledge in writing, reading and calculating is a requirement for further vocational education and development. It gives women the chance to get a job, to earn money and to nourish their children when their husbands leave the family. That happens frequently, because African men often abandon their families just because the wife was violated, although women can´t defend themselves against abuse.

Altogether education always means empowerment in every area of life.

4-A scheme

Group of Children

It is important to offer the girls and all other children in Africa an education that fits their life situation, helps them to understand their lives and to deal with it, as it promises them a better life and helps them to get on in their course of life. Therefore, education has to be accessible, acceptable and adaptable and above all this it has to be available.

  • Education is only then available, when there are enough schools in Africa, enough well educated teachers and learning aids.

  • Education is only then accessible, when every child in Africa has the possibility to go to school, both physically and economically.

  • Education is only then acceptable, when school is safe, lessons have a good quality and when the culture of the area where children are educated is taken into consideration.

  • Education is only then adaptable when one is able to adapt education to changes in society. [3]

  • To comply with all these conditions of good and adjusted education is not easy, and to assist girls and women in standing up for their rights is not easy as well. But instead of being discouraged because of these facts, everybody should – confirmed by all the positive aspects of education – do whatever one can do to provide girls and women in Africa with the education that everyone is entitled to.

    Magdalena Thalhammer


  • [1] Sydney J. Harris qoutes, http://thinkexist.com/quotes/sydney_j._harris/ (25.04.2010)
  • [2]Grundbildung ist ein universales Menschenrecht, http://www.plan deutschland.de/schule-afrika/kinder-afrika/ (02.01.2010)
  • [3]Prof. Ralf Poscher, Thomas Langer: Verbindliche Orientierung: Das Recht auf Bildung im Völkerrrecht, http://gew.de/Verbindliche_Orientierung_Das_Recht_auf_Bildung_im_Voelkerrecht.html vom 24.02.2009 (01.01.2010)

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