This week marks International Day of The Girl, a day which celebrates and empowers young women, giving them a voice and a chance to stand up for their rights. The day aims to raise awareness for injustices many girls face from discrimination, negative cultural connotations and violence.
One of the largest areas in which girls still face discrimination in the developing world is education, and Cameroon is no exception. While we believe that every child has a right to a good education and deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential, this often isn't the case for young girls. A child should have the opportunity to be anything that they put their mind to, no matter their gender. However, it's reported that 130 million girls worldwide remain out of school. From distance to schools, early marriage and even violence against girls in schools, girls face multiple barriers to their education.
Cameroon has made strides in recent years to improve it's education system, helping more and more children to break the poverty cycle. It currently has a record number of children enrolled in its school system which is amongst the highest in West Africa. However, despite this, there is still a widely notable gender gap. Between the ages of 6 and 14, only 80% of girls attend school in comparison to 94% of boys. This evidence shows that even in a country which is making waves for education, young girls are still missing out.
In Cameroon, it is thought that the main reason girls are missing out on an education is based on cultural expectations. It is the female children that are expected to help take care of the family and support around the house, especially if older relatives are unable to contribute as much as they had in the past. It's believed that young girls should learn to cook and clean to prepare for marriage, whereas men are expected to go out and work. In Cameroon, secondary education is not currently free and therefore, when faced with a choice, many families believe it's more worthwhile to pay for a male child's education and prepare their daughters for marriage. As cultural beliefs mean girls will inevitably become wives and mothers, with other duties besides work, a boys education takes priority. It has more financial benefit to the family to invest in the child that will go out to work. However, it is these cultural beliefs that need to change across the developing world to allow girls equal opportunities and break the cycle of discrimination in education.
In Cameroon, the legal age to be married is 15 and over 30% of girls in the country are married before they turn 18. In many instances, these marriages are arranged and bring financial benefit to the family. Therefore, many girls marry young and leave school to begin their own families and look after a home which means they lack the education and skills to be self-sufficient.
Keeping girls in school and proving a safe and supportive learning environment for them provides benefits to the girls themselves, but also their families, their communities and the country as a whole. Education empowers girls to reach their dreams, gives them the freedom to make their own decisions and plays a huge part in breaking the poverty cycle. Educated women also lead healthier lifestyles, marry later and have smaller families. Therefore, a girls right to remain in the classroom seems to be common sense. It also benefits the economy to have more people in work, and women create more diverse workforces which are proven to be more successful financially.
In Cameroon, some extraordinary women have already broken the cycle and are paving the way for other girls to follow in their footsteps. From organisations which fight child marriage and create opportunities for womenin industries such as science and tech, to promoting gender equality in communities and trying to challenge Cameroon's idea of gender norms. Other organisations and women are fighting to fund girls education in Cameroon, to change their lives forever and open up doors for them. These women are setting an example for girls across the country, proving that obstacles can be overcome and a girls destiny is not only to raise a family.
If you'd like to play a part in helping a young girl receive a quality education, avoid child marriage and reach her dreams, then visit our sponsor page to see how you can help.
Ensure you're following Children of Cameroon on social media to stay up to date with all of our latest news and updates.