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10 Ways Barriers to Girls' Education Have Changed in the Last 10 Years

By Virginia Terry

Over the past decade, significant global progress has been made in advancing girls' education. However, adolescent girls continue to face unique barriers, and global trends such as climate change have created new obstacles. As Girl Rising reflects on ten years of delivering programs to adolescent girls, we share ten ways that barriers to education have changed over the last decade, celebrating the positive and working with fierce resolve to address the ongoing challenges.

Positive Changes

Enrollment Rates and Greater Parity with Boys

We should all celebrate the success of efforts to close the gender gap in education in regions around the world. According to UNESCO, the gender gap in primary education has narrowed from 12 percentage points in 2000 to 6 percentage points two years ago. Girls are enrolling in school and staying longer than before. In India, for example, the gap between male and female school enrollment for 14-18-year-olds has narrowed from 4.1 percentage points to just 0.2 percentage points. In Kenya, girls are now more likely to be in school than boys. This shift has been driven by targeted policies, programs, and investments to reduce gender disparities - including using youth ambassadors and grassroots mobilization.

Improved Policies and Legislation

Many countries have implemented policies and legislation to support girls' education. Initiatives such as free primary education, school feeding programs, and gender-sensitive curricula have contributed to better educational outcomes for girls. Countries like Kenya and Tanzania have made primary education free, which has dramatically increased enrollment rates for girls.

Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Schools

Over the last decade, there has been a significant increase in awareness and efforts to combat school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV). Initiatives like UNESCO and UN Women's Global Guidance on Addressing School-Related Gender-Based Violence provide comprehensive strategies for schools and policymakers. Efforts such as the Good School Toolkit in Uganda have shown promising results in creating safer school environments and reducing incidents of violence. These and other initiatives have not only made schools safer for girls but also raised awareness about the importance of addressing SRGBV to ensure girls' right to education.

Persistent or Increasing Barriers

Cultural Norms

Cultural norms and gender discrimination continue to impede girls' education in many parts of the world. In fact, last year’s sobering Gender Norms Index showed gender bias remains deeply entrenched and in some regions is worsening (read Girl Rising’s take here) Traditional beliefs that prioritize boys' education over girls' persist, leading to lower school performance and higher dropout rates for girls during adolescent years. Those biases are showing up when researchers look beyond enrollment rates to school performance.  In India, despite girls’ improved enrollment, ASER’s 2023 study showed that girls are not gaining the skills and knowledge to transition to adulthood on a level playing field with their male counterparts. ASER’s conclusion indicated that family and societal expectations are pressuring girls to conform to the role of family caregiver rather than developing independent career aspirations. 

Low Quality of Education

Access to education alone is not enough; the quality of education is equally important. In many regions, the quality of education remains low due to inadequate teacher training, poor infrastructure, and a lack of learning materials. In Nigeria, only about 64% of primary school teachers have the minimum required qualifications, which significantly impacts the quality of instruction. In rural areas of Guatemala, schools often suffer from overcrowding and a shortage of trained teachers, which hinders effective teaching and learning.

Economic Barriers

Despite progress, economic barriers remain a significant hurdle. Poverty forces many families to prioritize boys' education over girls', as girls are often expected to contribute to household income or care for siblings. 

Climate Change

Climate change has emerged as a significant barrier to education, particularly for girls. Extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, disrupt schooling by damaging infrastructure and displacing communities. These disruptions often lead to prolonged absences from school or permanent dropouts, especially for girls who may need to take on additional household responsibilities during crises. Many of the young people in our education programs and our Future Rising Fellows have shared their personal experiences with education disruptions due to climate change. Read Future Rising Fellow Astrid Peraza’s article on the need for climate education here

Global Conflict

Armed conflicts continue to be a major barrier to girls' education. War and violence displace families, destroy schools, and create unsafe environments for learning. Girls in conflict zones are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and exploitation, further hindering their educational opportunities. According to UNICEF, over 27 million children are out of school in conflict-affected countries, with girls being disproportionately affected. For example, children living in Yemen have not been able to attend school for over three years because of the ongoing violent conflict.

Health and Well-being Barriers

Health issues, including poor menstrual hygiene management, continue to prevent girls from attending school regularly. Lack of access to sanitary products and inadequate sanitation facilities in schools force many girls to miss school during their menstrual periods, leading to gaps in their education. Programs providing menstrual hygiene education and supplies are helping, but challenges remain. See our recent focus on period poverty here

Technological Divide

While technology has the potential to bridge educational gaps, a digital divide persists. Many girls in rural or impoverished areas lack access to the internet and digital devices, limiting their ability to benefit from online learning resources. Efforts to provide digital access are ongoing, but disparities in technological access continue to hinder educational opportunities for girls.  See this story about our recent camp on digital storytelling in Amboseli.

The past decade has seen measurable progress in overcoming barriers to girls' education, and Girl Rising is proud to have been a part of the movement for change. But significant challenges remain. Addressing these persistent barriers requires sustained effort, innovative solutions, and a commitment to ensuring that all girls have the opportunity to receive a quality education. At Girl Rising we are continually evaluating the impact of our programs and adapting to specific needs in the regions where we work.

Our educational programs are expanding to address these evolving barriers and today our work encompasses additional topics such as climate change adaptation, financial literacy, reproductive health, digital literacy, and mental health. Taking a holistic approach, we not only engage with adolescent girls but also with their parents, caregivers, brothers, male peers, educators, school administrators and community members to address harmful gender norms. By working together with our global community of supporters and our innovative and committed partners, we can continue driving change to create a world where all girls learn, rise and thrive.   


UNESCO Gender Parity Index

UNESCO Institute for Statistics

World Bank: Girls' Education

UNICEF Education Statistics

Kenya Free Primary Education Policy

Tanzania Education Policy

Climate Change and Education

UNICEF on Climate Change

UNICEF on Children in Conflict Zones

World Vision: Education in Conflict Zones

World Economic Forum: Bridging the Digital Divide

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