600 million girls will join the workforce by 2028. If girls are educated and empowered, they will find skilled work to support themselves and their families. But too often, girls are seen as an economic burden. They are taken out of school early, married off and trapped by household responsibilities. Girls who stay in school have the chance to learn, work and support themselves in the future.
Girls Not Brides is a partnership of more than 1000 member organisations, all working to empower girls, prevent child marriage or support married girls to gain the skills they need.
We take a look at five things keeping girls out of school, and how our members around the world are helping to solve them.
Too many schools lack safe and clean toilets for girls. Without running water, privacy or sanitary products, girls’ lives are put on hold during their period, as they have little choice but to stay at home. They can miss as many as 1 in 5 school days as a result - or drop out completely.
When girls are kept out of school, their opportunities to gain the skills to enter the workforce are taken from them.
Girls without a school education are three times more likely to be married by 18 than those who finish school.
Raising Teenagers Uganda installs water tanks at schools and helps girls create reusable sanitary pads.
“While teaching at [a primary school] in Kireka years back, I realized that many girls would face a lot of challenges especially after starting their menstruation” says Hope Nankunda, Leader of Raising Teenagers Uganda.
- War and conflict
"Education is the armour that will protect you in life." — Muzoon, resettled refugee and Malala Fund Girl Advocate
War and conflict exacerbate many of the drivers of child marriage.
Displaced families are often unable to meet their children's basic needs. For example, 86% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line.
Many Syrians are choosing to marry their daughters at a young age as they struggle to survive.
Conflict puts women and girls at increased risk of violence. Child marriage is seen as a way to protect girls from sexual violence in an unsafe environment.
SB Overseas works with refugee communities in Lebanon.They speak with communities and families about the impact of child marriage, encouraging parents to keep girls in school. They also run ‘catch-up’ schools to help girls gain vocational skills and earn their own money.
This powerful graphic follows Fatima as she becomes a child bride. Credit: Felix Brassler / SB Overseas.
“Once I complete this training, I am sure I will get a job, which will enable me to buy my own machine and start my own business.” – Scholastica, a student with Huru International.
- A lack of vocational training
Even if girls are able to attend school, they may find the curriculum out of step with their needs. Practical skills training such as tailoring or radio programming can help them gain valuable skills and find work.
Huru International teaches girls industrial sewing so they can make reusable sanitary pads, underwear, reusable diapers and bed nets. They offer advanced training for dressmaking and tailoring, and even cover soft skills to support entrepreneurship.
- Sexual violence
For many girls, the journey to school is not only long and tiring but dangerous. Girls who walk for hours through remote areas are often at risk of sexual violence. This stops many girls from going to school.
When girls' education is cut short, they cannot hope to join the skilled workforce.
In Nepal, JWAS (Janaki Women Awareness Society) gives girls bicycles so they can travel quickly and safely to and from school. Girls can dedicate more time to schoolwork or household responsibilities, allowing them to compete “on an equal footing” with boys.
Her bicycle is “more than just a form of transportation for a poor school girl.” JWAS says it brings “motivation, self confidence, and empowerment for her.”
- Social norms
When money is scarce, many families choose to educate sons rather than daughters.
They may see educating boys as investing in future wage earners.
Daughters are often seen as future mothers and homemakers, unlikely to ever hold jobs.
In cultures where brides move into their husband’s home, many families see little benefit in educating a girl who will join a different family.
The URMUL Trust in Rajasthan, India supports communities to go ‘child marriage free’ and helps girls stay in school and out of child marriage.
They help married girls like Kavita, 17, to delay going to their in-laws’ home so they can finish school.
“She will have a brighter future if she finishes her studies” says Pappu, Kavita's father. “As a father I dream that my daughter will get a job as a constable in the police. That’s why I’m doing this so that I can make sure she has a bright future. She will be able to take care of herself and her family.”
In the time it has taken to read this article 51 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds
Girls Not Brides
Ettie is Communications Associate at Girls Not Brides: the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.