Girl Determined Promotes LeadershipA program called Girl Determined promotes leadership among adolescent girls through a multi-faceted, engaged approach. In Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia, it is common for young girls to grow up wishing they had been born boys. Despite progress and distribution of equal rights in developed nations, women and girls living in Myanmar still face extreme oppression today. Unfortunately, they continue to fight for some of their most basic human rights.

Women and girls regularly face issues such as gender inequality, violent relationships and extreme prejudice. 2016 Demographic and Health Survey found that 21 percent of women had reported experiencing physical, sexual or psychological violence from their partner. Researchers even believe that, given the authoritarian-style government in Myanmar, the real number is actually much higher.

Part of the problem is that girls between the ages of 12 and 17 lack the confidence and empowerment needed to speak up for their rights. In a nation where females are born into the expectation that they will remain subdued, gaining the courage to challenge the norm can be difficult. Girl Determined is working to change that.

The Program

The program is structured primarily around Circles. Circles are weekly after-school peer groups that provide young girls with a place to share their experiences and learn from one another. Currently, more than 2,000 girls across Myanmar participate in Circles. The meetings follow a curriculum that addresses five categories:

  1. Decision-making
  2. Self-confidence
  3. Building friendships
  4. Understanding cultural and religious differences
  5. Girls’ rights and planning for one’s future.

During the group sessions, topics can range from universal experiences among adolescents, like puberty and chore lists, to challenges exclusive to the female Myanmar community. For example, shared fears concerning the risk of sex trafficking, lack of education and violence witnessed in war.

To provide support for Circles, Girl Determined hosts an annual Girls’ Leadership summer camp, a Girls’ Conference and a number of athletic programs and campaigns. They are encouraged to keep a journal, plant seeds and participate in team sports. All of these opportunities are designed to put girls at center stage. Furthermore, the program intends to create an outlet to advocate for issues that inherently affect them.

The Impact

Through something as simple as open discussion and encouragement, participants are paving a brighter future for girls in Myanmar. Adolescent girls have become a marginalized group after decades of being taught to follow cultural norms and remain silent. Girl Determined promotes leadership, while also functioning as a platform for real change. Many of the girls who have participated in the program say it taught them to speak up, specifically against gender-based violence and has mobilized them to spark change in their communities.

In 2013, over 800 participants gathered for a conference in Rangoon to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. Teenagers from Girl Determined advocated for policy change in the social welfare department. The local news even covered their statement. Since their statement, women’s organizations working closely with the government have implemented protection for girls into Myanmar’s National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women.

The Circles program is entirely voluntary, so the program measures its overall success is by retention of attendance. Across various project sites in Myanmar, attendance averages at 90 percent. Overall, this speaks to the power in how Girl Determined promotes leadership among young women.

– Anna Lagattuta
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Health in East AfricaMenstrual health products are fairly expensive across the globe. Safe measures of menstrual health in East Africa are difficult to come by since many women cannot afford to purchase feminine hygiene products, which often cost approximately half of their daily pay. ZanaAfrica is working to combat this injustice by providing sanitary pads and education regarding menstrual health.

The Problem with Menstrual Health in East Africa

Due to the exorbitant cost of menstrual health products, girls in Africa often have to resort to using potentially unsafe means of coping with menstruation. Some young women use cloths and rags to deal with menstruation, but they also use unconventional approaches such as twigs, mattress stuffing and even mud. These practices founded out of necessity can have detrimental impacts on the health of adolescent girls. Infections and diseases can result from these measures.

Additionally, female students are likely to miss school as a result of menstruation. Due to stigma, lack of hygiene products and harassment, many girls are unable to attend school during menstruation and miss up to 20 percent of school days as a result. Another aspect affecting adolescent girls is the pain and discomfort associated with menstruation.

Sexual and reproductive health education is lacking in Kenya. In an interview on March 25, 2019, Linda Curran, the Senior Communications & Development Consultant at ZanaAfrica, told The Borgen Project, “Their lack of access to SRHR educational resources exacerbated by the negative external pressures they face leaves girls susceptible to inaccurate information and unsafe influences that often hold deep and lasting negative implications for their sense of voice and agency, their confidence and self-determination, their sexual activity and health, and their education.”

In Kenya, 50 percent of girls cannot openly discuss menstruation at home. Additionally, 68 percent of schools do not have a private area for adolescent girls to address their hygiene needs.

An Organization Helping Improve Menstrual Health in East Africa

Based in Washington D.C., ZanaAfrica is a nonprofit organization that provides sanitary pads and menstrual health education to girls in Kenya. Its efforts in Kenya center around the town of Kilifi, along the East African coast. Kilifi was home to 1.2 million residents as of 2012. Since then, its population has grown.

A large portion of the population in Kilifi, 47 percent, is under the age of 15. In addition, compared to the national average, fewer students enter secondary school. Kilifi also has staggering numbers of violations of women’s rights, including high incidences of teen pregnancy, child marriage and sexual predation. In Kenya, 527,000 girls are child brides. The work of ZanaAfrica in Kilifi is pivotal in providing positive changes for the adolescent girls of Kilifi.

Supplementing sanitary pads, ZanaAfrica also has a publication aimed at educating girls about their changing bodies, Nia Teen. This magazine has a rights-based focus and ZanaAfrica distributes it alongside its health education program, Nia Yetu.

ZanaAfrica is truly making a difference in Kilifi with programs educating nearly 4,000 girls regarding their sexual and reproductive health. Also, the organization distributed 35,600 sanitary pads to the girls of the region. With Nia Yetu, ZanaAfrica is extending its reach by working with World Vision and The Kenyan Ministry of Health to provide sexual and reproductive health education in 40 schools that will reach a total of 1,600 girls.

ZanaAfrica accepts donations to further its mission of providing adolescent girls with access to sanitary products and eliminating the taboo surrounding menstruation. While ZanaAfrica only sells its sanitary pads in Kenya, the organization’s brand partner, Cora, is available in the United States. A portion of each purchase helps support the work of ZanaAfrica in Kenya.

– Carolyn Newsome
Photo: Google

CARE International

From Europe to Everywhere

CARE International is one of the foremost aid organizations in the world. It has a long and distinguished history, having been established in 1945 to help survivors of World War II in Europe. Today, CARE operates in more than 90 countries, runs 1,033 projects that serve more than 80 million people, and holds more than $584,161 in financial resources.

The beginnings of CARE were very different than the organization that exists today. Many people today may not realize that the term care package, now part of the everyday English lexicon, began as a registered trademark of CARE—an acronym that originally stood for “Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe.”

But CARE—which now stands for “Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere”—has changed dramatically over its more than 70 years of operation. Not only has it grown in size, but it has also changed focus. While CARE started by sending commodities to hungry people in Europe, it has evolved into an organization that is both more global and more local, both broader and more focused.

International and Local

One of the biggest changes CARE has undergone since its inception is a change in scale. In 1979, CARE changed its name to Care International and transitioned from a U.S. organization to an international organization with 14 branches around the world. While the largest branch is CARE USA in Atlanta, CARE International’s central headquarters is in Geneva.

At the same time, CARE International has moved away from one-size-fits-all aid, like the CARE package, and toward locally focused aid. It makes an effort to hire employees from the localities that receive the benefits of aid projects, so the people tasked with implementing programs have a deep understanding of local needs and obstacles.

In the words of CARE USA’s previous CEO, Helene Gayle, “Now instead of just focusing on the consequences of poverty and lack of access to basic needs, we also focus on the underlying causes… We look at how you have a longer-term impact on the lives of the communities in which we work… and we work not only on relief and emergency situations but continuing from relief to recovery to development, and building resiliency so communities that are affected from time to time by emergencies are able to respond and bounce back better.”

Helping Women and Girls

Gayle, as CEO of CARE USA, ushered in another major change, this one a change of focus. Under her leadership, CARE starting focusing its efforts on women and girls.

This is because, in Gayle’s view, “Girls and women bear the brunt of poverty around the world.” She explains elsewhere, “if women and girls have an opportunity, there’s this catalytic effect. A girl who is educated is more likely to marry later, have fewer children, have a greater economic future for her children, get them into school, etc.”

CARE’s focus on the wellbeing of women and girls has generated impressive results. For instance, in one CARE program in Bangladesh designed to reduce malnutrition in children, aid workers realized that the program was most effective “when households also participated in activities that contributed to women’s empowerment.” CARE began by creating programs to increase educational access to women and fight domestic violence, and the nutrition benefits followed.

CARE International is a storied organization that could have continued along the path it started in 1945. In order to have an impact on a changing world, though, the organization decided to change. In the process, it has provided a lesson in flexible, dynamic global aid work in the 21st century.

-Eric Rosenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in Albania
Albania is one of the poorest of the European nations. Recently, the Albanian Government has been making strides towards economic growth, but it has only now come to realize the importance of empowering and supporting women in the country. The government is empowering women in Albania by taking a stance against violence towards women, encouraging girls’ education and increasing access for women in the workforce.

Violence at Home

The National Strategy for Gender Equality campaign was launched in 2016 to help the Albania Government implement a policy to help women achieve real equality. As it stands now, most of the women are working in agriculture on family farms, often without pay. According to the U.N., almost 60 percent of Albanian women have direct experience with in-home violence.

A woman named Tone from a village in north Albania shared her story of endurance after being in a 10-year arranged marriage full of abuse. Her family had suggested she stay with her husband in spite of the abuse because there were no support systems available for Tone and her children if they left their abusive home. When she finally had had enough, she reported the violence and, to her surprise, the police were timely, responsive and positive. They referred her to the National Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Domestic Abuse The Centre is up and coming and is currently aiding around 100 women victims annually.

Tome’s story is just one of several stories of women’s suppression in this poverty-riddled nation. In fact, one in two women are victims of abuse in Albania. For those that have not found a helping hand and been able to escape the harsh realities of inequality, the story acts as a cycle. Children who come from uneducated mothers are less likely to complete schooling if it is even available to them in the first place. The influences of home life, such as violence, inadequate funds, illness, excessive children in the home or lack of transportation, make it hard for children to succeed in school.

Promoting Education for Empowering Women in Albania

Because children from these homes require more support to make it through school without the heightened risk of drop-out, UNICEF has joined forces with the Albanian Government to promote Child-Friendly Schools (CFS).  These CFCs encompass a holistic education based on the needs of children who need the most help, especially girls. The projected outcome of the CFS plan is to make education in Albania more readily available by increasing the country’s GDP budget towards education up from 3.27 percent to 5 percent. The hope is that, with education and proper emotional support, these girls will grow up better educated and better equipped to enter the workforce.

Sociologists are quickly realizing that empowering women through education is crucial for national growth in any developing country. In 2006, Albania joined the Global Partnership for Education and has since implemented strategies for equality such as gender quotas that will make girls’ education in Albania more accessible and better equipped to serve these young ladies. The program has already seen an increase in primary and secondary school completion rates.

Many girls in Albania don’t have the same access to education due to conflict or crisis, poverty or because so many young girls are married. With access to primary and secondary education that is made more available by USAID and other activists, women will be empowered and, therefore, be able to make better choices that support their individual needs and dreams.

Improving the Future for Women in Albania

Women make up half of the Earth’s population, which equates to half of the human capital. Rigid gender roles and cultural tradition have delayed the realization of equality for some women in countries like Albania, but as change happens, government officials are seeing the benefits of humanity and equality along with the need to act. Together with the Government of Sweden, U.N. Women is raising awareness of women’s rights across each of the 10 municipalities in Albania. The good news is that in 2014 there was a 51 percent increase in female participation in the labor market.

The majority of Foreign and Domestic aid for Albanian women is geared toward equality as a whole, which means progress for women and girls in Albania. Escaping violence, becoming educated and empowered and gaining access to the workforce are all necessary for achieving equality and truly empowering women in Albania.

– Heather Benton

Photo: Flickr

Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s developmental capacity is, to some extent, contingent on the inclusion of young girls and women in the formal education system. Though work is being done to improve girls’ education in Uzbekistan, there is still a long way to go. Access to early education for girls is scarce in Uzbekistan. The U.N. uses a mechanism called gross enrollment ratio (GER) to analyze the education levels of its member states.

Pre-primary Education

Pre-primary school enrollment ratios for girls (ages 3-6) have been around 26.5 percent in the last 10 years. While pre-primary education may seem to be an inconsequential aspect of education for young girls, a study from the World Bank linking preschool attendance to employment outcomes in Uzbekistan shows that it is rather important to girls’ futures.

The Government of Uzbekistan and The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) have both recognized the need to improve pre-primary education. With financial support from the GPE, The Ministry of Preschool Education plans to expand early childhood care and education, with the ultimate goal of achieving 100 percent enrollment by 2021.

Education and the Role of Women

The foundational laws and reforms in Uzbekistan have created an education system that is compulsory for primary school (ages 7-10) and secondary school (ages 11-18) boys and girls. However, practice school attendance, particularly for girls, has not been universal due to socio-cultural and socio-economic barriers. In recent years, the government has worked to remove those barriers and integrate underserved populations into the education system; a majority of those populations includes girls.

Between 2008 and 2017, the GER for girls’ primary education increased from 92.6 percent to 102.28 percent, remaining relatively equal with that of male students during the same time period. In 2017, the enrollment ratio for females in secondary school was 92.42 percent, lower but still relatively equal to their male counterparts.

Girls’ education in Uzbekistan is lacking most at the tertiary, or university level. The GER for females in tertiary schools (ages 19-23) is just 6.33 percent. However, this meager statistic is not a reflection of young women’s unwillingness to pursue higher education or a satisfaction with the status quo. It is, rather, a reflection of a lack of funding, high tuition costs and an outdated societal expectation that young women take on traditional, household roles after secondary school.

The Future of Girls’ Education

Changing the landscape of girls’ education in Uzbekistan requires structured and integrated reforms at every level. Extracurricular activities are another tool that can be used to expand and strengthen girls’ education in Uzbekistan. Encouraging girls to explore activities and career paths seldom held in the past can have an empowering effect. This was exemplified in early 2017 when the UNDP held a “technovation challenge,” in which hundreds of young female programmers collaborated to tackle social issues, including education, using their programming and innovative skills.

“The idea that ‘it is too hard for girls and women’ is as outdated as it is offensive, and yet we still hear it,” according to the event’s press release. At the end of the challenge, the girls in attendance were able to meet and hear from the Uzbek women that make up a small portion of the tech workforce now. In terms of cultural change, events like the technovation challenge are some of the most impactful as they dispel the notion that investing in these girls’ education is unnecessary. It puts on display the untapped potential within the Uzbek female population and changes the perceptions of those who still hold “outdated” understandings of the role of women in society.

The UNDP and the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan have also put their monetary resources to use in order to provide grants to female university students. Monetary investment will prove to be a vital part of expanding girls’ education in Uzbekistan given the high tuition costs. This, alongside the structural and cultural changes being implemented, can break down barriers to girls’ education in Uzbekistan in the short-run and the long-run, expanding the potential paths of all women in Uzbekistan.

– Julius Long
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Burundi
At then end of June this year, the Ministry of Education in Burundi decided to ban pregnant girls and teenage fathers from attending school. Girls have always been treated unfairly in comparison to boys when it comes to education, and this new ban is just another example. Although the ban feigns equality by giving teenage fathers the boot: the solution is faulty.

Teenage Pregnancy in Burundi

To begin with, all children deserve the right to education and should not be denied it on the premise of pregnancy. Secondly, there is no access to a reliable method to establish a teenage boy’s paternity. The ban is inherently biased against girls because they cannot hide their pregnancy. Since teenage pregnancy is an issue, girls’ education in Burundi will be affected by this restriction because fewer girls will be able to attend school.

The impact of this new law has the potential to be irreparably damaging, as 11 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in Burundi are sexually active. Additionally, 40 percent of victims of sexual or physical violence in Burundi are teenage girls. There is simply no way for the Ministry of Education to police sexual violence in order for it to entirely stop affecting girls of school-age. The ban does nothing but punish girls for a situation they have no control over.

Other countries such as Morocco and Sudan have also taken measures in an attempt to prevent premarital sex. The laws they have in place allow young girls to face criminal charges for adultery and extramarital sex. They can also be expelled from school. Officials have stated the laws are necessary to punish girls for “moral failures.”

Poverty and Girls’ Education in Burundi

Burundi is one of the poorest nations in the world, with 65 percent of its population living below the poverty line. Living in a low-income region already is detrimental to girls’ education in Burundi. Girls’ families often cannot afford school supplies and the quality of education is not good either.

The last thing girls need are more roadblocks to getting their education. The new ban on attending school while pregnant perpetuates stigmas and isolate young girls socially. These girls are often already financially disadvantaged and ostracizing them from the school system puts them in a much less supported and dangerous place.

Some countries have policies that allow girls to re-enter school after being expelled. However, it is common for these systems to have many deterrents for girls to actually re-enter. Medical exams and an extended maternity leave are just a few examples.

After a young girl has been ostracized and humiliated, it is unlikely she will want to return to pick up from where she left off. The re-entry programs make the system seem a little more humane. But when thought about realistically, they probably will not provide girls with more opportunity.

Girls’ education in Burundi has a long way to go after the passing of this law. Surpassing financial obstacles in an impoverished country to get an education is hard enough on its own. Girls should not have to live in the fear of losing their shot at getting an education because of a situation that they are not responsible for.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in the Marshall Islands
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a small island country located in the Western Pacific, known primarily as a tourism destination. Despite its travel appeal, the Marshall Islands deserves to be recognized for another aspect: girls’ education.

In most developing countries throughout the world, a common theme exists of girls being underrepresented in schools and having lower levels of education when compared with males. In the Marshall Islands, this is not the case.

Gender Parity in Education

According to a 2014 study by the Ministry of Education, gender parity is present at nearly all levels of the Marshall Islands educational system. Regarding primary and junior high enrollment, the study comments on the ‘absence of a gender gap’ by stating that there is equal enrollment between boys and girls. This trend is continued through secondary education systems, where women are even overrepresented, comprising 51.5 percent of those in high school despite only making up 48.3 percent of the total base population. Regarding the final rung of the educational ladder, college education, the study found that college enrollment is essentially gender neutral in the Marshall Islands. 

These enrollment numbers are significant in appraising gender parity between males and females in the Marshall Islands. But how is the education affecting men and women? Could there be a discrepancy between the scores of men and women on standardized tests?

The answer is found in results from the Marshall Islands Standards Assessment Test (MISAT) during the 2012-2013 school year, which shows that girls outperformed their male counterparts in nearly all segments of testing. This indicates another success for girls’ education in the Marshall Islands. Women are not simply being enrolled and ignored, but are actively learning and receiving equal attention when compared with their male classmates.

Potential Problems

Despite these positives, there are worries that gender parity in schools is not translating into complete gender equality. One such worry is manifested in the tendency for most high school girls to choose electives with a traditionally domestic application, such as sewing or cooking. This leads to women being underrepresented in the more “marketable” subject areas, such as mechanics and computer-related courses.

Such an imbalance can create problems for gender equality down the road, as women may fall into traditional gender roles in which they have fewer means and less independence. The study by the Ministry of Education asserts that these sort of differences are not due to a discriminatory educational system, but are simply the result of broad traditional social values. 

Whatever further approach the Ministry of Education takes, it is clear that they have been successful in reaching educational gender parity between girls and boys in the Marshall Islands. This not only applies in the academic setting but also in the greater environment of the country, evidenced by increasing general literacy rates. The same study by the Ministry of Education indicates that for those who are 10 years of age or older, the literacy rate was 97.9 percent for males and 98.0 percent for females. 

Looking to the Future

The progress made in girls’ education in the Marshall Islands deserves acknowledgment. Educational parity between girls and boys is no small feat, especially in a developing country. Furthermore, all signs point to a promising future for The Marshall Islands after the election of Hilda Heine, the first female leader of any Pacific island nation.

There is still work to be done. How the Marshall Islands moves through the more advanced steps of changing gender inequality and social attitudes remains to be seen, but much optimism can be drawn from what the country has already achieved.

– Taylor Pace
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Girls' Education in Russia

There is always something to see in the international media when it comes to Russia but most of the information out there tell us nothing about the country’s education culture. When it comes to understanding what kind of education culture exist in a nation, it is important to take a look at different dynamics such as girls education with respect to gender gap and more. Here are 10 facts about the girls’ education in Russia.

Facts About Girls’ Education in Russia

  1. Russia has one of the highest rates of literacy with 98 percent in general. The rate is higher than most of the Western European countries.
  2. The education system, in general, is run by the state. The government is offering free general education to its people and there are three common segments of schools known as pre-school, primary and secondary.
  3. Just like in most of the countries, Russia also has both private and state schools in its education system. There is no gender inequality between the attendees of either private or state school. Socioeconomic status of families is the primary determinant on whether the child goes to private or state school.
  4. Back in 2017, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets highlighted that 37 percent of the Russian women have a higher education degree. She also added that women usually combine their professional duties with housework and childcare and in this way, natural reasons for gender discrimination is created.
  5. For men, the abovementioned number is 29 percent, which is eight percent lower than women’s rate. The Deputy Prime Minister Golodets underlines that although there is a bigger rate of the woman in terms of holding a higher education degree, discrimination still exists in the job industry.
  6. Even though the rate of the woman holding a higher education degree is higher than men, women’s wages are only 73 percent of men’s average salary. In other words, discrimination is real among genders in terms of the salaries.
  7. UNESCO highlights that 29 percent of the scientific research worldwide is done by the woman. This number is different in Russia. According to the data shared by UNESCO, 41 percent of the scientific research in Russia is provided by women.
  8. Not every woman in Russia is encouraged to do science. There are so-called “womanhood” schools in the country teaching woman how to do the housework like cooking and cleaning properly. A school called “Woman Inside” is an example of one of those schools, where women are coached to be nice to their husbands and keep their homes tidy.
  9. Girls have an early interest in STEM subjects, which is an abbreviation for science, technology, engineering and maths. These are preferred subject by the girls in Russia. A study conducted by Microsoft shows that lack of woman in STEM subject-related fields due to peer pressure, lack of role models or encouragement is not applicable for Russia. Russian girls perceive the STEM way too positively and try pursuing a career in the field as well.
  10. Stereotype view of engineering as a manly job is not the case in Russia. The same Microsoft study emphasized that stereotype towards woman exist in the sense that usually few women pursue a career in engineering. The case is different in Russia where 15 percent of the inventors are women which is a very high number considering the fact that, in comparison, this number is 4 percent for the U.K.

Conclusion

These facts about girls’ education in Russia show that the country has both negative and positive images on the questions of girls education. Equality of wages between genders still seems like an issue that needs improvement, but there are positive examples in decreasing the stereotyping of gender in different fields of study, which is very promising. One thing should not be forgotten: improvement in girls’ education is always possible and important. 

– Orçun Doğmazer

Photo: Google

Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is one of the five independent states that formed after the dissolution of The Soviet Union in 1991. Despite no longer being under Soviet rule, the educational standards that had been established under its former rule have generally remained consistent in all five nations, including having a formal tertiary education and almost universal literacy rates. Gender equality has recently been a hot topic with a special emphasis needed in girls’ education in Turkmenistan.

The good news is that the enrollment rate for primary school is currently around 97 percent, and completion of this level shows to be equally high for both genders. As part of The United Nations, Turkmenistan is continuously looking for ways to achieve international standards of quality education as well as the integration of the marginalized and minorities.

Standards Need To Be Improved

Among school districts across Turkmenistan, a standardized curriculum is required with a few years dedicated to humanities studies. This includes subjects like history, physics, foreign languages, world cultures and the Turkmen or Russian language. Unfortunately, Turkmenistan education lacks quality, especially among teachers.

Finding and retaining qualified teachers remains an issue due to unreasonable teaching hours, insufficient instruction materials, scarce materials and equipment and low salaries. Moreover, “an estimated 13 percent of schools have such serious structural defects in their physical plants that they are too dangerous to use for classes.” The low quality of crucial mentors as a result of such poor educational infrastructure ultimately affects the education of developing children in a negative way.

Another issue has been that 77 percent of the schools in Turkmenistan teach in Turkmen. The remaining 16 percent still use Russian as the primary language and are seeing higher success rates. This poses a problem in hiring new, qualified teachers as well as in educating students.

Inequality in Girls’ Education in Turkmenistan

Equality pertaining to girls’ education in Turkmenistan is lacking. Statistically, fewer than 40 percent of girls in Turkmenistan are studying at the tertiary education level. In contrast, girls in surrounding nations formerly under Soviet rule – like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – are actually more likely than boys to attend school.

Women and girls in Turkmenistan suffer great discrimination, especially within the realm of political involvement and gender-based violence. Sadly, women of ethnic minorities experience dual discrimination. For this population, higher education at university institutions is never an option. They are rejected outright for the national belief that their identity is not true Turkmen.

The handfuls of women who do exercise their ability to attend university are not without restrictions. Simply, no female student is allowed to enter the university unless they are dressed in the national Turkmen dress, including a scarf to cover the head. Men, on the other hand, have no such restrictions to follow.

Working Towards Equality in Girls’ Education in Turkmenistan

Currently, higher education generally requires five years, which can present a challenge to women since they are expected to marry by the age of 20 – 21. The existing timeline hardly allows for school completion and decreases the chance of women attending and/or completing their education. However, reforms are being considered that will allow women a greater opportunity to complete their time at higher institutions.

Despite the equality gap, the government is working toward reform for girls’ education in Turkmenistan. In 1997, the country approved The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which defends women’s rights in all realms and works to eliminate discrimination, stereotypes and sex trafficking. The country adopted a law in 2015 guaranteeing “equal rights and equal opportunity for women and men” as a way to reach its goals of international gender equality standards.

Progress is being made to encourage a higher standard of gender equality. State and local government are working together to fund 15 key areas to improve gender equality, including a much-needed data collection database in order to monitor progress. The country is far from its goal, but these continued efforts should secure a better future for girls’ education in Turkmenistan.

– Mary Grace Miller
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in Montenegro
Montenegro has recently seen calls from multiple organizations—UNICEF, UNESCO, and The World Bank—to better its education system and improve education for girls. Although universal enrollment in Montenegro is 97 percent, the dropout rate from primary schools is high. About 13 percent of women in Montenegro have not completed primary school, and about 6.4 percent of women do not have any education. In addition, the illiteracy rate in Montenegro is higher for women (3.4 percent in comparison to 2.35 percent for men). Overall, only 50 percent of students are proficient in less than 30 percent of essential knowledge.

Gender Inequality in Montenegro

In a recent report, UNICEF deemed schools in Montenegro as “non-girl-friendly” and claimed this was a major factor in the impediment of girls’ education in Montenegro. Moreover, UNESCO’s 2011 report on education in Montenegro saw that teaching methods were severely outdated and teachers often used intimidation tactics. Finally, discrimination against girls, particularly in schools across Montenegro, was 80 percent higher than against boys.

These discrepancies have caused an imbalance in the work force, though it is not completely one-sided. Only 52 percent of females, compared to 66 percent of men, participate in the labor force. The major disparities of gender is in parliament and other positions of power. In parliament, as of 2015, only 17 percent of seats are held by women.  In 2013, only 24 percent of firms saw female ownership. And in 2012, only 12 percent of females, compared to the 22 percent of males, were self-employed. There has been much backlash to these statistics, and many organizations have taken direct action to improve girls’ education in Montenegro.

The Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education and Science of Montenegro, the main policy making body for education and sports in Montenegro, has received support from said organizations—UNICEF and UNESCO mainly.  This support is to ensure that basic learning needs are met and sustained of all children regardless of their ethnic background, social class, and especially gender.

Though the country has a National Plan of Action towards girls’ education in Montenegro, UNICEF’s annual report of 2016 found that the country is now more focused on the second decade of life and ending violence against women. In 2015, Montenegro’s prime minister stated that the country was committed to increasing attendance and expanding preschool coverage. The Minister of Education, in 2017, reiterated this same focus to UNICEF. The now disbanded Ministry of Education and Science’s publication of a “Comprehensive Evaluation of Primary Education in Yugoslavia” is, nevertheless, still being used as an outline for education reform, as is the World Bank’s emphasis on active learning in young children and a life-skills education in later years.

Though the country has moved away from focusing on girls’ education, the calls for reform have nonetheless been consistent. Montenegro has changed its focus in the past decade from gender-based education reform, to improvement of school systems, to now expanding their preschools and their enrollment. Girls’ education in Montenegro, while in need of alteration, has found itself stuck under the larger issues of migration, poverty and an overall lacking education system. Thus, change has yet to be seen.

– Isabella Agostini
Photo: Flickr