“Gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration – recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’ but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centred development.” Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Gender Mainstreaming: Strategy for promoting gender equality, United Nations, New York, August 2001.
Even though gender equality is getting more and more attention, girls continue to suffer severe disadvantage and exclusion in education systems throughout their lives. An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013 (www.unicef.com). Aay’s Village will provide education to kids from 8-16 years old, and we will promote this opportunity to the entire village, but in particular to the girls of the village.
South and West Asia has the widest gender gap in its out-of-school population - 80% of its out-of-school girls are unlikely to ever start school compared to 16% of its out-of-school boys. However, research show that investing in formal and non-formal education and training for girls and women, with its exceptionally high social and economic return, has proved to be one of the best means of achieving sustainable development and economic growth that is both sustained and sustainable (1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action). In addition, research indicates that a single year of primary education correlates with a 10–20% increase in women’s wages later in life, and reduces the risk that her children will die in infancy by 5–10%. Education offers what the World Bank has referred to as a “window of hope”. Girls’ education is the single-best policy for reducing fertility and therefore achieving smaller and more sustainable families.
We need to educate the children in the village of the importance of treating everyone equally. We are happy to see that Laos is somehow working towards equality, but we will continue to keep the focus on our goal, which is gender equality. We believe that empowering girls is the best way to make the community in Laos thrive, and research support this. Girls’ education is both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come. (www.unicef.com).
The barriers to providing equal education to girls, are many: social norms, constraints, school fees and limited resources.
In Aay’s Village, we are working on several incentives to provide girls with the opportunity to join the educational path:
Our lesson plans include several themes like human rights, gender equality and social norms to prevent boys from promoting inequality and girls from meeting barriers in the future. This information will also reach as many grown-ups in the community as possible through evening classes and discussions with teacher, monks and village chiefs
Our lessons will also provide the children with safe sex information, prevention possibilities and the importance of not feeling forced to marry or have kids before they are ready to do so.
We have no school fees, and if a child has household obligations, we will strive to get the child out of work and back to school.
We have adequate sanitation facilities and our latrines are private and separate
The classroom environment shall at all times be a trusting and warm place to feel safe where no exploitation, punishment or violence will ever find place.
We believe that this information is worth sharing with as many as possible, and we will strive to inform boys and girls of the importance of gender equality and empowering girls.