The right to free access to education

Last week our IB students began their final examinations. They have been an impressive cohort. They have worked hard over the last two years and the next few weeks will see a culmination of their efforts. As they sit their exams their worries are likely to be focused on the examination paper: will the right questions come up, will they be able to show off their knowledge to the best of their ability. Not once will they question their safety in the examination room or that external forces will prevent them from sitting the exams, affecting their whole future.

So it was with distress that I read the news this last week of the kidnapping of over 200 school girls from a northern village in Nigeria whilst they were at school, some sitting a public examination. The girls knew they were at risk so I was appalled by the Nigerian’s Government lack of response, their almost indifference to such an action putting in no protective measures to ensure the safety of these women. I was equally appalled to see the video recording of the leader of Boko Haram, the group that have kidnapped the girls, where his utter disdain and disregard for women were clearly evident. He saw women as valuable commodities in the sex industry who could be sold off as slaves or child brides. Some of the girls kidnapped were as young as eight. The postings in the social media of Boko Haram show them reveling in their actions.

What I find worrying is that this posturing is not unique. There are still too many extremists groups who object to the education of girls and destroy women’s aspirations by removing their rights to education. It is well known that the development of a country is linked to the free access to education for girls. An educated woman understands contraception, thus reducing the country’s birth rate. She can look after her child providing it with the proper nutritional support, thus reducing the country’s infant mortality. She can survive without early marriage, make her own decisions and in doing so contribute to the economic development of her family and her community. Yet without education the country’s birth and death rate remain high and women are locked into a life of dependency and servitude.

It is why educated women are speaking out. It’s why women such as Michelle Obama use for the first time the presidential speech to declare, “This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls,” and it is why we educate our girls so proudly to stand up to these sort of abuses to help make a difference. Until women have free and unfettered access to education, global development will always remain checked.

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