From my visits on the field I have noticed that poverty has a trickledown effect starting from parents to their children, in particular the female child. One of the main reasons for this is that parents feel as though they have to prioritize the distribution of their scarce resources.
This has been the case when deciding which of their children to educate. Investment in male descendants is preferred in the hope that this will pay off and that one day they can in turn support their parents. The preference of sons, and their education, is a pension for parents since daughters in many cultures traditionally leave the family after their marriage. Moreover, there is a belief that investing in a girl’s education is not worth it as she will most likely be doing household chores, fetching water (from far away), working in the fields or be married off early. The education of girls is simply not given the same priority or value as is given to educating a boy child.
Such gender inequality is a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty in developing countries, and it is estimated that 60% of chronically hungry people are women and girls . This is despite girls taking care of the household, caring for older relatives, and doing almost 60% of hard agricultural work (in Asia and Africa) . Also, compared to their share of agricultural labor, women own a disproportionately low 13% of arable land and are not protected by workers' rights or a functioning welfare state. The consequences of this are low wages, health problems, little access to state benefits, virtually no opportunities for social advancement, limited freedom of choice and limited access to credit.
Apart from gender discrimination, there are also other significant barriers to girls’ education and success in developing countries.
Although most public elementary schools in Asia and Africa do not charge school fees, parents still have to pay for school uniforms, books, and, in some cases, even subsidies for the meager salaries of teachers. These costs alone are not affordable for many. In addition, many rural areas lack either accessible schools or teaching staff. To get from the rural areas to the cities where schools could be visited, there is often limited access to public transport. If transport is available, girls and women on the move are often threatened with sexual harassment and rape. To protect their daughters, many parents prefer to keep them at home.
If schools exist, irrespective of rural or urban areas, there are often no “proper” toilets or running water that the girls can use, especially during their monthly cycles. In many poor countries it is not uncommon for girls to skip school for a week or a month, which means they often cannot catch up with the “missed lessons”.
Sex education is non-existent in schools or homes (or is a taboo topic) and therefore teenage pregnancies are a very common problem, especially in Africa.
Child marriage is also a common phenomenon; this trend occurs when parents due to their financial constraints need one less mouth to feed, or in the case of Africa, a girl’s parents can receive goats, cattle and/or sheep from the groom as dowry.
Poor nations also suffer from the consequences of a lack of proper medical care. Babies are usually delivered at home, where life-threatening complications exacerbate the situation. Heavy bleeding, infection and other adverse conditions lead to a high maternal mortality rate. When they survive the birth, daughters often become mothers themselves at a very young age, starting the cycle again. In many countries, such as Tanzania, teenage girls who become pregnant are not allowed to go back to school to continue with their studies.
This combination of lack of education, lack of sexual “awareness” and poverty have had severe consequences on the well-being of girls and women, especially in Asia and Africa. For instance, more than half of all poor rural women lack basic literacy skills. This in turn limits their employment prospects, decision-making and freedom of choice, and results in them earning less and their individual and social well-being decreasing.
Through our various initiatives and partnerships, FrauenPower e.V. aims to strengthen the empowerment of girls and women, through better access to education, training and employment opportunities.