Zahra Suleiman speaks English like a native. She attends the private Ummu Salama Secondary School where most classes are taught in English, allowing students like Zahra to excel in a discipline that will help her succeed in the future. She also has a special talent for math and science that have put her at the top of her class and will help Zahra go even farther in life. Talking to Zahra it’s apparent that she not only hopes for a bright and happy future – she expects one.
However, Zahra did not come to this success easily. In 2005, Zahra’s father died and her mother could no longer afford to take care of her and her four siblings. That year she moved into the Umma Ayman orphanage with her siblings. Zahra found joy in her academic work and also loves visiting her mother and relatives on holidays. Today, Zahra is one of 81 female students who are available for funding on www.theschoolfund.org. These girls are part of a movement to equalize access to education for all children, regardless of their gender.
Historically, girls have been kept out of school for cultural, religious, or economic reasons. International pressure and governmental policies implemented in the last fifteen years that help ensure universal access to primary education have contributed toward significant gains in gender parity in education. In 1999, there were 25 million girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who were not in school. Today, this number is down to 17 million girls. Although, globally, gender parity in education seems to be within reach, as 95 girls for every 100 boys attend secondary school in the developing world, the gains have not been equal across all regions. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, only 67 and 76 girls, respectively, are enrolled in school for every 100 boys.
While in many places primary education is free, secondary education still requires families to contribute financially. Perhaps because of this, as girls age, statistics show that gender disparity in educational access becomes more pronounced. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 66% of boys make the transition from primary school to secondary school; however, only 57% of girls who complete primary school continue their education.
Stopping a girl’s education short doesn’t only have an effect on her future, but also has tremendous implications for the health of nations. Educated women have fewer children, later in life, and are better able to support their families as each additional year of secondary school translates into 15%-20% better wages over a lifetime. These small, stable families have the resources to invest in their children’s future, creating a virtuous cycle of education that helps raise nations out of poverty.
At The School Fund, we’re working to make sure that more girls get the opportunity that Zahra has to attend a high quality school. Soon, we’ll be introducing a new page just for girls which will allow funders that are specifically interested in helping girls learn more about what their donations can do and connect with female students. Keep an eye out for the new page and, in the meantime, visit our female students on the homepage.
Smart, curious girls like Zahra are everywhere. They simply need the tools to turn their natural energy and ability into success later in life. The only way to ensure that all girls have this opportunity is to create a world in which any child is able to attend school.