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WI-HER Celebrating Women’s day

by Hanna Rabah

Secondary Education to Secure the Future of Women

By Caitlyn Lutfy, MPH on March 8, 2013

The Arab Spring, Malala Yousefazi’s activism and assault, the January Indian gang rape- these events and the global reactions they ignited all demonstrate the indisputable role of adolescents in challenging political and social structures and traditions. With adolescents making up 18% of the world’s population and with 88% living in developing countries, great opportunities to embark in positive changes for the future abound.[1] However, as witnessed in the horrific cases of rape and violence against women during Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square, the global community and national policy-makers must proactively engage the adolescent energy and culture of transition for positive changes. This is an opportune time to improve the position of women and girls and counter the global epidemic of violence against women and girls.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, the majority of the 600 million adolescent girls in developing countries are unaddressed in national policies and programs.[2]  The neglect of women and girls at national levels is reflected in the treatment, perceptions and opportunities for women and girls in their communities and at home. It has implications for self-perception and perpetuates a culture of violence and disregard for half of the population holding potential change-makers, contributors to the economy and caretakers of children. Worldwide, 49% of adolescent girls believe that men are justified in hitting or beating his wife in certain circumstances.[3]

One way national policies and programs can empower girls and women and reduce gender-based violence is to increase secondary education of both girls and boys. While the Millennium Development Goals pushed for universal primary education, secondary school enrollment remains low and gender inequalities in education are exaggerated at the secondary level in many countries.   In 2005 UNICEF estimated that fewer than 39% of children at secondary school age in the developing world were attending school.[4]  Girls face disparities in education which increase during adolescence.  Enrolment in secondary schools keeps adolescent boys and girls off the streets, equips them for employment and economic activities, and channels their innovative energy into structured sustainable avenues for development. Furthermore, girls attending secondary schools are more likely to delay childbirth and early marriage and more likely to be self-efficient in their future marriages, which circumvents dependence on their husbands and women’s level of education is associated with better health outcomes for children.

Bringing youth together in secondary schools also provides a medium for addressing pressing future needs by integrating these areas into the curriculum.  Where it is feasible, schools can engage students in human rights education and empower young men and women to stand up for and defend the rights of women and girls. It is time to challenge the global acceptance of violence against women and girls.  The strides made in maternal health, HIV AIDS and in other global health initiatives in national health systems will be blunted in a world where women and girls are oppressed at home. We can achieve the same gains we achieved in primary education in the last decade in secondary education and must do so to leverage the world’s transition through adolescence.


[1] http://www.unicef.org/sowc2011/pdfs/Demographic-Trends.pdf

[2] http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/documents/news/2010/joint_statement_adolescentgirls.pdf

[3] http://www.unicef.org/sowc2012/pdfs/SOWC-2012-TABLE-11-ADOLESCENTS.pdf

[4] http://www.unicef.org/progressforchildren/2005n2/secondaryedu.php

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