Lack of women’s rights has been an issue plaguing the world since the beginning of humanity. It has affected many women and men in every experience imaginable. Women suffer through exclusion and lack of opportunities in politics, domestic abilities and education. Since education is the basis of any achievement, it can be studied to show the extent of rights gained or still needed across the globe. In all regions, men have had an advantage over women in many aspects.
It is therefore a question of how great this advantage is and how one can overcome such obstacles. There’s a girl who has accomplished so much despite being 17 years. Her name is Malala Yousafzai. She reminded the world of the power of education through her passionate speech, countless interviews and courage. She has continuously raised her voice on access to education as well as speaking up for many girls who desperately seek formal education.
As it is with all activists, there is a danger in speaking out. Yousafzai was best known when she was shot by the Taliban for defending women’s education. Hence, she has always been a primary target. Ever since she was a child, Malala learnt that education was a basic necessity. After a miraculous recovery she became a women’s rights spokesperson and won the noble peace prize in 2014. She has performed countless tasks to raise awareness of the need for women’s education and rights including speaking at UN conferences. She became the global voice for girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram and even met the president of Nigeria to urge him to meet with the girl’s parents. She has helped young people have a voice among world education leaders and through her fund, the Malala fund, she made a long-term commitment to girls education and the education of women in several countries.
Education is a struggle for women everywhere. In some parts of Africa, they are neglected, traumatized and abused and abandoned just because they are female. Mireille Muhigwa is an activist for women’s education rights from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was nine years old when she saw her friends and neighbours attacked by rebel invaders. The trauma made her vow to educate girls and end their fear. She continued her education even as she saw many of her classmates get shot, raped and killed. Through it all, she persisted and graduated. She was the only girl to pass with honours. Muhigwa has become the gender programme officer for an initiative that seeks to educate young girls against sexual violence in rural areas.
While these are two current examples from developing worlds, the fights for women’s rights began in the industrialization period throughout European history. Women were not allowed to attend school in this time. In London throughout the 1800s, women’s education was discouraged and most women had few options. Becoming an educational performer, author and principal of Cheltenham Ladies’ college, Dorothea Beale was a leader that rose to the occasion in the face of this issue. After finishing her school in Paris, she later attended Queen’s College for Women which selected her as their first female mathematics tutor. After, she was elected headteacher at Clergy Daughters School but left after a year due to her failure to change the way the school was organized. Her major achievements include her success at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Under her leadership, the school was considered to be one of the most highly regarded schools in the country. At that time most women’s colleges emphasized the subjects of music and drawing while Beale believed women deserved the right to a more academic education. She used the success of the Cheltenham Ladies’ College to support her later writings including her paper on the education of girls which was read at the social science congress of 1865. Beale was a leader in educational reforms breaking down barriers women in Europe faced in access to education.
In the Americas, many people have overlooked the importance of education for women. Education was and still is a problem for many women on the continent. Women did not have access to higher education before 1848. While only a few women might attend a women’s seminary or the academy, they were not allowed into colleges and universities. By 1890, 70% of all women in colleges were enrolled in only co-educational colleges. In 1870, only 0.7% of all women were in college. There was a genuine fear that education will make women unfit for marriage and motherhood. Fear persisted for a long time. In 1920, when Eleanor Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna Roosevelt enrolled for one year in Cornell’s school of agriculture. Her grandmother complained that girls who went to college were damned to be old maids and bookworms. Eleanor Roosevelt focused on reforming women’s education. She even started a fund that honours individuals and institutions for outstanding contributions to equality and education for women and girls.
The problem is not fixed just yet. Australia ratifies the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW and has recently taken steps to implement it fully despite previous concerns about particular sections. Today women are better educated than ever with more women graduating with university degrees than men according to the sector of foreign affairs and trade in 2011. This is a part of the world where equal access to education has been achieved.
While the years before seem to have seen radical changes in access to education for all, other parts of the world are still reluctant and are faced with medieval traditions and beliefs that succumb women to brutality, trauma and socio-economic uncertainties. As today marks the celebration of International Day of Education, it behooves us to see to this seeming behemoth task left to perform in other to give equal rights to all irrespective of race or location.
“Girls attending school in Sam Ouandja” by hdptcar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.“