Students from a US based MA course recently asked me why NGOs put too much emphasis on shocking statistics and pictures of girls only while boys from poor and conflict affected countries were also disadvantaged? “Why discriminate” they asked? It dawned on me that to one not caught up in the debates, or one witnessing or living the reality of the girls “plight” in Africa and other parts of the world, there is need to project clear messages and actions on “why girls”?

Classroom in Niger – Photo Credit: PLAN

This seems a good platform to do so. It is the 21st century, yet gender inequality in education remains an unresolved issue, as cyclical, intergenerational gender gaps persist. For decades, the narratives remain the same since time immemorial – Millions of school age girls not in school, many of those enrolled are highly likely to drop out without completing a full cycle of basic education, those who complete may never transit to the next level and if they do they are unlikely to achieve better learning outcomes. Did you for example know that in Western Sub Saharan Africa the gender gap in Education increased between 1970 and the mid 1990 and is greater now than it was in 1970? The key reasons –Gender blind education policies, systems and plans, few to no female teachers in conflict affected fragile states (CAFS) and rural areas, no schools close to homes, unattractive curriculum, male-bias, un-protective environments, poor gender budgeting to increasing hidden costs of education and other competing priorities for girls such as early marriage, domestic work and other social –cultural expectations and so on. If we’ve all along known this, then why are the messages and actions not persistently loud enough for upcoming generations to pick up and run with them? And if they are well projected, why are they not translated full scale into the desired results to end gender inequities in education? Could it be that long lasting solutions to these issues are yet to be invented and implemented accordingly?

On the surface it appears a lot is being done. Not a singe day goes by without a message on girl’s education and related issues popping up my computer screen. Alerting me of this girls project, that forum, this video, that report or new publication and so forth. The spotlight seems to be back on girls, as it dawns on many, including the UN, that none of the MDGs can be achieved without girls’ and women’s education. However, the messages appear mixed. Some, including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the World Development Report 2012, highlight progress towards gender equality, while others, such as the recent EFA Global Monitoring Report, indicate stalled education access and regression in education quality resulting in appalling learning outcomes. In 2012 alone, International agencies and related campaigns have published numerous reports describing and drawing the attention to the plight of girls. From calling attention to the 1.5 Million 15 year old child brides likely to miss education to “39 Million 11-15 year-old girls out of school”, the majority of these living in Conflict Affected Fragile States (CAFS). On the other hand, optimists, such as the World Bank, indicate that gender inequalities are dwindling as women close in on men in basic education, work and survival rates. The fact remains, whether girls education is improving, stalling or getting worse, much more needs to be done now than ever before to eradicate these malignant inequalities once and for all.

To me, the quagmire is exacerbated by a) Apathy amongst most leaders at all levels about changing the girls’ situation. To this day the rights of women and girls are often seen as a “nice to have”  rather than a “must have”, by decision makers in policy, b) lack of persistent girl’s education actions closely knit and linked from decade to decade, with no breaks in between, c) no clear messaging at global level in unison targeting each level –individuals, communities, states and global to end discrimination against women and girls, d) no concerted efforts to coordinate plans and actions that directly conquer the already well articulated issues by putting beautiful reports into action and e) too much focus on numbers/quantitative targets.

Surely how will the world ever achieve gender equality with so many loose ends left unattended?