ACCESS OF RURAL GIRLS TO PRIMARY EDUCATION
IN THE THIRD WORLD: STATE OF ART, OBSTACLES,
AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
Paper prepared for AID/WID October 31, 1979
A. STATE OF THE ART
1. The Statistical Picture
In the Third World, women's literacy and access to primary education
still lags behind that of men, and the situation is more accentuated for
rural than for urban women. The present picture as well as the degree
of progress made in increasing women's access to formal education varies
considerably from continent to continent and from country to country.
In Latin America, for example, women have as much access to primary
education as men, and this access has spread quite widely since 1975,
when 78% of girls (and boys) 6-11 years old were enrolled in school.(
Despite an almost universal literacy in many Latin American countries,
rural women (and men) still often have less access to formal education
than urban women and men. In Asia, despite the greatest increase in
the Third World in the number of girls 6-11 years of age attending
school, (2) the discrepancy between girls and boys of that age enrolled
in school is large (50% of girls and 71% of boys in 1975).(3) The great-
est discrepancy between boys' and girls' access to primary education is
found among low income Asian countries, especially Afganistan, Bhutan,
and Nepal in which girls represent less than 20% of primary school stu-
dents. In Africa where girls attend primary school from the ages 6-18,
the gap between women and men seems to have widened from 1960 to 1975
rather than diminished, especially in the age group of 12-17.(5) In
West Africa, despite increases in total enrollment of girls, female en-
rollment still lags behind that of boys,and according to UNESCO projec-
tions, these disparities will further increase by 1985.(6) Thus, girls in
West and Middle Africa will continue to have less access to formal educa-
tion than in other LDC's.
In general, the overall trends indicate that women's access to pri-
mary education continues-to be lesser in the low income developing
nations of Africa, Asia, but not of Latin America, as well as in North
Africa and the Middle East. In these areas, about one-third or less
of the primary school students are women.(
The statistical picture becomes clearer and more meaningful, how-
ever, when we come down to the level of specific countries. In 1971,
for example, 18.4% of Indian women and 39.5% of Indian men were literate,
but the discrepancy between rural and urban Indian women was even larger:
13.2% of the rural and 42.3% of the urban women were literate. But
even within Indian states, there is considerable variation from Kerala
where 53.1% of rural (and 60.6% of urban) women are literate to Bihar
with 6.4% of the rural women literate and to Rajastan with 4% of the
rural women literate.(0) The situation is even more extreme in Morocco
where, in 1971, only 14% of all women were literate, but only 2% of the
rural women and 38% of the urban women(11) and in rural Yemen, only 2.4% of
the women were literate.(12) At the other extreme, Chile represents a
country nearing universal literacy for both women and men and El Salva-
dor which has achieved sex parity in literacy although rural men and women
lag behind the urban population. In Asia, Thailand is the counterpart
where female literacy in rural areas is now almost universal.(13)
It seems, therefore, that rural women have consistently less ac-
cess to literacy than rural men but'also less access than urban women.
It must be underlined, however, that literacy is not the most important
indicator of access to primary education since in some countries literacy
does not necessarily imply school enrollment and even less often pri-
mary school graduation, In India, for example, 40% of women literates
have not completed primary school, and it is graduation that is crit-
ical for admission to important vocational training such as agricultur-
al training. Also about 20% of the literate women in the slums of Istan-
bul had acquired literacy without schooling.
In most cases, however, enrollment statistics are not meaningful
and accurate unless the cohorts of entering students are followed up
through graduation since the dropout and doubling up rates for all stu-
dents, particularly girls, are quite high. If completion of grade four
can be taken as an indication of the level of education needed in order
to become and remain literate, only about half of the children who en-
tered primary education in 1970 attained this level. More children,
however, in Africa than in Latin America or South Asia were able to
finish the fourth grade. Here again, there are considerable variations
from country to country, from rural to urban as well as according to
gender. In India, for example, out of 1,000 entrants to primary
schools, only 475 boys and 407 girls are still in school after five
years, while only 226 girls and 439 boys are still in school after six
years in Cambodia and 68 girls and 80 boys in Syria.(17) More detailed
data from Algeria show that only 39% of the boys and 30% of 1,000 en-
trants completed the six years of primary education.
In general, educational wastage is higher in rural areas and
for girl students. Thus, in Algeria, for example, the wastage of girl
students was much higher in rural areas where only 21% of the women
graduated than in urban areas where 36% of the women succeeded in grad-
uating. Also, the discrepancies between Algerian boy and girl grad-
uates were larger in rural areas where 19% more boys than girls gradua-
ted than in urban areas where only 7% more boys than girls graduated.
It is of interest to note that, although girl students show a
greater degree of educational wastage than boys, their wastage is more
often due to dropping out while boys' wastage is more often due to repe-
tition of grades.(19) Girls' attrition from primary school seems, there-
fore, to be less due to failure to be promoted than to withdrawing from
school for non-scholastic reasons. Boys, on the other hand, tend to
"hang on" regardless of scholastic performance as some detailed data
from rural India suggest, according to which boys show greater persis-
tence in school than girls.
'A small but in-depth study of rural school girls in Ghana shows
quite clearly the reality facing schoolgirls in many LDC's in terms of
the nature of factors responsible for their withdrawal from school.
Schoolgirls in the elementary school ranged from 6 to 20 years, one-
fifth of whom were 18 or older, and half of the girl dropouts were 18 or
older and another one-third were 16-17. The age range of the rural
Ghanian schoolgirls is not unique for the rural areas of many African
countries and is due to delayed entry into school as well as to tempor-
ary dropping out and re-entering into the same grade after some time or
to repetition of grades due to failure. The older, however, the school-
girls, the greater the probability that they will drop out because they
get married, because they get pregnant, or because they lose interest
in school, especially when they are able to do some kind of work and
earn some money. The Ghanian case study clearly shows these trends:
37.8% of the schoolgirls who dropped out of school did so because they
became pregnant. Furthermore, over 20% of the girls were engaged in some economic
activity to raise some money and about 80% of them did some kind of
trading as helpers to theirmothers or guardians or by themselves.
These girls are introduced to trading from an early age (6-16 years old)
by often keeping the daily accounts of their mothers' sales and in this
way are exposed to the possibility of immediate monetary rewards with-
out the benefit of schooling.
The relationships also between early marriage and withdrawalfrom
school is clear-cut. In Pakistan, for example, only 2% of girls aged
15-19 were enrolled in school and 75% of them were married. (23) The
overall trend for LDC's is a negative relationship between early mar-
riageand school enrollment. More specifically, where girls 15-19
years old defer marriage, their rates of school enrollment tend to be
the same for both sexes, but where they marry young, their enrollment
rates are much lower than those for men.(24) Thus, marriage also inter-
feres with graduation from primary school since a considerable percent-
age of the enrolled girls are 15 years and over.
2. The Importance of an Elementary School Education
Rural girls' access to formal education is the key to their.inte-
gration to the mainstream development efforts of their countries and to
the opening of educational, employment and even maritl options. Grad-
uation from elementary school is crucial for rural girls because:
a) it firmly establishes literacy, and it opens up options
to participate in different types of vocational training
such as agricultural and cooperative training;
b) it increases their ability to take part in different
types of rural developmentefforts and non-formal, exper-
imental educational programs;
c) it contributes to a more extensive literacy and schooling
for the following generations;
d) mothers' education has been found to improve the nutritional
status of children;25
e) it tends to make women more receptive to family planning;
f) it helps women achieve and benefit more from different
types of non-formal education;(26)
g) it has been found to be related to increased farm produc-
The importance of mothers' education for children's education and
nutritional status (as well as for their health) is such that the need to edu-
cate women in LDC's could be strongly argued even only for the sake
of future generations. The poverty cycle cannot be broken as long
as women do not have access to primary education. Iranian data showed
that rural adult male literacy is more closely associated with the school-
ing of boys than of girls while a higher adult female literacy improves
schooling, of both boys and girls about equally.7 And, a study in
Senegal showed that children's regularity of attendance at primary school
as well as their aspirations to more education is influenced by the
mothers' literacy and level of education.
But equally significant is the accumulating evidence that primary
education helps increase farm productivity. In India, for example, lit-
erate farmers were found to produce higher yields per acre.(29) And a
recent survey of 18 studies examining the relationship between farmer
education and farm efficiency concluded that farm productivity increases
on the average, by 7% when farmers have completed four years of school
rather than none.(30) We can, therefore, expect that literate women
farmers' increased productivity may be accomplished by their having ac-
cess to agricultural and cooperative training; by seeking more contact
with agricultural extension workers; by being more aware and more open
and accepting of existing nonformal programs, facilities (e.g., agricul-
tural credit) and strategies that can increase their productivity; and
by being better able to implement new ideas and to use existing facil-
ities. Graduation from primary school helps rural women's linkage with
the "modern" world and with making the first important step toward be-
coming "integrated" into rural development.
While up to now, we have been examining the importance of rural
women's access to primary education in terms of the improvement of
their options within the rural context, we must also examine the opening
up of options outside the rural context. Primary school education will
also provide rural women with the option of migration to urban areas
since there is considerable evidence that formal education is related
to higher rural-to-urban migration rates. This, however, seems to
be more true for areas in which women are not widely actively involved
in agriculture as is more often true for some Latin American countries
and the Near East than for Africa.(32) To the extent that women's increased
access to formal education is inot accompanied by increased access to agri-
cultural training, rural women's formal education may lead to their mi-
gration to the cities. If, however, rural women's primary school gradu-
ation was followed up by agricultural training in many countries and re-
gions many women would become productive farmers instead of seeking an
uncertain future in the cities.
In some rural areas, however, the available agricultural land is
limited and of poor quality and cannot absorb everybody's labor even
at a subsistence level, regardless of economically feasible improvements.
In these cases, it is important for rural women to have the option to
migrate to urban areas instead of having to stay in totally unproductive
fans abandoned by men and to have a primary school education which is a
requirement for vocational training programs. After all, increasing
urbanization, especially in Africa, is an inevitable reality and rural
women must have formal education at the elementary level as a basic skill
for their rural-to-urban transition.
Finally, primary school education is a basic prerequisite for women's
access to higher education and thus to upward social mobility. Even
when only a handful of rural girls are able to continue their education,
this'option is completely blocked when, for a variety of reasons, they
are not able to complete primary school.
B. OBSTACLES TO RURAL WOMEN"S ATTENDING AND COMPLETING ELEMENTARY EDUCATION
The obstacles to rural women's access to elementary education can
be grouped in the following categories:. 1) competing household and child-
care tasks and responsibilities; 2) competing involvement in productive
activities; 3) parents', and especially fathers', negative attitudes toward
daughters' education; 4) parents' limited financial and educational re-
sources; 5) shortage of schools; 6) shortage of women elementary school
teachers and male teachers' negative attitudes toward women's education
and ability to learn; 7) dropping out of school because of pregnancy or
marriage; 8) poor school performance and dropping out of school because
of malnutrition and chronic infections; and 9) educational sex-segregation.
1. Competing Household and Childcare Tasks and Responsibilities
In most developing nations, young girls begin to have house-
hold and childcare tasks and responsibilities from a very early age,
often from the time they are 5-6 years old. This picture is accen-
tuated in the urban slums and the rural areas of the Third World
where a six-year old girl carrying a baby in her arms and another
child trailing behind her is a familiar sight. The mother role
is thrust upon girls from childhood on and it continues throughout
life with adverse consequences for the prevailing fertility rates.
Time budget studies conducted in rural areas of several LDC's
clearly show how young girls have to spend much more time in house-
hold and childcare tasks than boys and are, thus, less able than
boys to attend school and to do their homework. In rural Java, for
example, girls 6-8 years old spend 1.7 hours per day in childcare
while boys of the same age spend 1.2 hours. Girls 9-11 years old
.spend 1.9 hours per day doing household tasks while boys of the same
age spend only 0.9 hours and more hours in school than girls (3.5
hours instead of 2.9 hours spent in school by girls). In rural
Nepal, girls 6-8 years old spend over eight times more hours in
child care than boys of the same age and five times less hours in
school.(34) Similar trends have been reported for rural Peru where
daughters are much more likely than sons to help with cooking and
washing and,above age 10, to substitute for the mothers in the prep-
aration of meals.(35) The same trends have been found in rural
(36) (37) (38)
Yemen36 rural Bangladesh,(37) and Botswana.38
The fact that rural girls are given more child care and house-
work tasks and responsibilities, especially older daughters,
than boys affects their access to education both directly and in-
directly. Girls are not sent to school at all or are withdrawn
from it earlier than boys as well as made to miss school because
they must stay home and take care of younger siblings and do house-
work. Days and hours missed at school interfere with their abil-
ity to follow lessons and to perform satisfactorily. In this way,
girls receive bad grades, repeat classes and eventually lose inter-
est in school, and male teachers' negative attitudes about girls'
ability to learn are further reinforced. Furthermore, because the
child care and household tasks compete with time
available for studying (especially while there is still daylight),
girls have much less time to do their homework and are, thus,placed
at a disadvantage in school until the road of least resistance be-
comes their dropping out of school.
2. Competing Involvement in Productive Activities
Children's involvement in different types of productive
activities varies considerably by cultural area, country and region.
In some countries, boys are much more often involved in productive
activities than girls, as it has been documented for the village
(39) (40) In
of Char Jopalpur in Bangladesh, and rural Botswana.(40) In
other countries such as rural Java, it has been found that boys
spend'more time than girls in agricultural activities, but girls
spend more time than boys in handicrafts and in rural Nepal,
girls over 9 years of age spend more time than boys in agricultural
activities. Water carrying is often girls' responsibility. In ru-
ral Yemen, for example, girls begin carrying water in small containers
over their heads from the age of 6, and by the time they are 10, they
are responsible for providing the household with water. Another
survey in the Kivu province of Zaire showed that boys up to the age
of 10 were not at all involved in productive activities while girls
5-9 years old helped with weeding and carrying water. This age
difference in responsibility and time commitment between boys and
girls represents an important headstart for boys' primary education.
What is important in all cases is that girls spend considerably more
time than boys in total work, household and child care and productive
activities combined, which seriously interferes with school attendance
as well as school performance.
In West Africa from an early age, girls are heavily involved
- li -
in their mothers' trading activities in addition to child care and
housework and,thus, often lose interest in school since they have
little time and opportunity to study and the more attractive oppor-
tunity to gain some money overshadows any potential long-range
gains from education. Because West African rural women traders
are very often illiterate, they do not value formal education for
their daughters and are not always able themselves to make the nec-
essary linkages with the more "modern" western-style trade that would
allow them to become successful.
3. Parents'Negative Attitudes Toward Daughter's Education
In many LDC's parents feel that it is much more important to
educate sons rather than daughters since sons are expected to sup-
port old parents, and daughters are expected to marry and be sup-
ported by their husbands. (45) The lower priority given to daughters'
education is further justified in terms of the higher cost of such
education because girls who attend school are not available to help
at home. Because girls are immediately needed in the household as
labor but boys are valuable as social security, time allocated to
education would interfere with their ability to contribute labor, and,
on the contrary, can/may enhance boys' value as social security.
In addition to the perceived lesser functionality of education
for girls whose labor is needed at home, parents often hesitate
to educate their daughters because they are afraid that education will
make them disobedient, disrespectful and "bad" daughters and wives
who do not abide by the localtraditions. This resistance becomes
adamant in Muslim countries and regions in which women's virginity,
sexual purity, and lack of any contact with men is necessary for
marriage. In these countries, early marriage is viewed as the best
protection of the girl's good reputation, and parents are anxious
- 12 -
to marry their daughters as soon as possible and thus, transfer
the responsibility for their sexual and moral conduct to their hus-
In general, parents' motivation to educate their daugh ers re-
mains quite low as long as literate and educated wives are not par-
ticularly valued and sought after as partners and as long as women
are not viewed as economically active as men.
4. Parents' Limited Financial and Educational Resources
As we saw earlier, illiterate mothers seem to contribute to
all children's and especially to daughters' illiteracy and poor
school performance. But what seems- to be even a more significant bar-
rier to rural girls' access to elementary school education is pover-
ty, especially when combined with traditional values downplaying
women's education and an underprivileged social status resulting
from membership in a discriminated against ethnic or religious group.
In fact, poverty and tradition often coincide since rural and poor
people usually uphold traditional values much more faithfully than
other people. Since, within the rural context, girls' formal edu-
cation is defined as a luxury, the smaller the parents' financial
resources, the smaller the probability that daughters will have the
same access to formal education as sons. In rural Malaysia, for
example, parents' low socio-economic status represents an impor-
tant barrier to Chinese (but not as much to Malay) women's access
to formal education while it does not constitute a barrier to Chi-
nese men's access to formal education.48 In India the daughters
of Harijans and other scheduled castes have less access to literacy
and primary education than daughters in other rural families,49
and within each caste category, girls' access to schooling increases
- 13 -
twice more than boys' access with size of parental landholding.(50)
The more parents can afford to pay the fees, the cost of books and
the necessary clothes involved in the education of all children,
the grater the daughters' chances to receive a formal education.
The more, however, parents must set financial priorities, the more
boys.are educated at the expense of girls. Parents feel that in-
vesting in a son's education will have higher economic returns
than investing in a daughter's education.51) Furthermore, educa-
ted sons may also be better able to help with dowry and other ex-
penses connected with daughters. As a matter of fact, a study in
Nepal showed that the more daughters in the family the more school-
ing the father wanted for his sons who presumably would thus be
better able to help with the financial "burden" of many daughters.(52)
5. Shortage of Schools
While shortage of schools in LDC's is a definite barrier to
all children's access to formal education, it constitutes an even
greater barrier to rural, poor children and especially, to girls
within this context. In Afganistan, for example, where schools
are sex-segregated from grades 1 to 12, only 12.4% of village schools
(with 3-4 elementary grades) and primary schools are for girls.
Urban slum areas share with rural areas the greatest shortage of
schools and rural girls suffer the most from this shortage for the
a) when schools are available only in other villages, and
attendance requires walking long distances, parents are
reluctant to send their daughters to schools, especially
in countries in which girls' sexual purity is carefully
b) rural girls whose parents are poor are more handicapped
by the shortage of schools than girls whose parents have
sufficient resources to send her to school in another
village or town;
c) in LDC's in which primary education is sex-segregated,
the shortage of schools is much more accentuated with
regard to girls' schools, especially in rural areas.
But even when the rural schools are co-educational but
small, male teachers most often accommodate the boys in
the limited space available.
In addition to the shortage of school buildings and space, the
almost complete lack of textbooks and educational material in rural
schools affects negatively boys'aid girls' interest in school as
well 'as learning.(55) At least some of the educational wastage among
rural boys and girls could be attributed to their lack of motiva-
tion created by the lack of textbooks and other written material.
6. Shortage of Women Elementary School Teachers
Despite the fact elementary school teaching almost universally
is a "feminine" occupation and the majority of those teachers are
women in such countries as Jamaica (79%), Nicaragua (79%) Philippines
(78%), and Mexico (61%), women are seldom teachers in the least de-
veloped countries or regions. Thus, only 2% of primary school teach-
ers are women in Bangladesh, 18% in Afganistan, 21% in Morocco and
28% in Liberia.(56) Furthermore, women elementary school teachers
tend to concentrate mostly in the cities and are, therefore, rarer
in rural areas. While, for example, 50% of elementary school
teachers in Lagos are women, only 15% are women in Muslim North Ni-
geria and 17% in East Nigeria.(5 And in Afganistan, only 1.4% of
teachers in village schools are women. Women teachers often prefer
- 15 -
to stay unemployed in urban areas rather than accept a job in a
rural school because of lack of housing, low salaries and the dif-
ficult life for young single women in a rural area. This is par-
ticularly true in Muslim societies in which the honor code makes
it very difficult for a single woman to live alone in a small rural
community. In Pakistan, for example, it has been reported that
women teachers' absenteeism is very high and sometimes they remain
on the payroll without ever going there, so that the school exists
only in official records.(59)
The importance of women elementary school teachers is highlighted
by UNESCO data showing that the percentage of elementary school child-
ren who are female increases proportionately with the percentage of
elementary school teachers who are woren.(60) It is, of course,
possible that this relationship is due to the fact that the same
factors are responsible for girls' higher access to primary educa-
tion and for women's choice of elementary school teaching as a career.
It is, however, even more plausible that the presence of women
teachers encourages parents to send their daughters to school because
it establishes the potential economic usefulness and social status
of women's education(61) and that women teachers hold less negative
attitudes toward girl pupils than men teachers. In many rural Muslim
areas such as rural Bangladesh only women teachers can teach girls
and, therefore, the very low percentage (2%) of women primary school
teachers has to drastically increase before rural girls' access to
primary school education can be facilitated.
The beneficial effect of women primary teachers on girls' educa-
tional chances may be also due to the possibility that they discrim-
- 16 -
inate against girls.less than male teachers. Possibly they do not
have uniformly low achievement expectations from girl students, and
they may not structure the classroom environment so that it dimin-
ishes girls' chances. In Senegal, for example, Wolof girls were
placed by the (male) teachers at the back of the classroom from
where they could not hear well and could not follow class proceed-
ings. Because of this, their scholastic performance was poor, thus
reinforcing their teachers' low expectations of them. Eventually,
they became discouraged and dropped out of school or were sent
home by the teachers.
7. Dropping Out of School Because of Pregnancy or Marriage
Since we have already presented the relevant data in Section A,
there is no need for further elaboration.
8. Malnutrition and Chronic Infections
While malnutrition is often widespread among children in the
rural areas of many LDC's, there is some evidence that it is more
widespread among pre-adolescent and adolescent girls than boys.
A study of malnutrition among children in rural Punjab showed that
girls were more often malnourished than boys regardless of their
caste. Despite variation in the incidence of malnutrition between
caste, within each caste there were three or more malnourished girls
for each malnourished boy.(63) 'Furthermore, field studies under-
taken by the Indian Council of Medical Research showed than in 1971
girls outnumbered boys four to three among children with Kwashior-
kor.(64) In rural Philippines, on the other hand, it was found that
families spend more money on food for boys than for girls, especially
in the one to six year old age group (400 and 287 peros respective-
- 17 -
ly).65 And in rural Guatemala, it was found that a protein sup-
plement improved most the mental development scores of girls from
the poorest families since boys tend to be treated preferentially
when resources (food or money) are scarce.
It seems, therefore, that the more food and financial resources
are scarce in the rural part of the Third World, the greater the
probability that -girls will be malnourished and that their mental
development may be low. There is considerable research evidence
from a number of LDC's that malnutrition affects children's mental
development and ability to learn. (67) Children who were treated
for malnutrition when they were toddlers were found to perform
25% of a standard deviation below the mean in scholastic achievement
at the primary school level. Malnourished children have shorter
attention span lower stamina, are more apathetic, cannot concentrate,
their hearing as well as their memory may be poor and their cognitive
abilities may be impaired. Because malnourished children are
apathetic and lack motivation, concentration, and responsiveness,
teachers tend to respond less and to interact less with the children
with serious repercussions for learning and for staying on in school.
In fact, studies from Thailand and Nigeria tie malnutrition and ill
health to irregular attendance, failure in examinations, and dropping
out of school.(70) Since girls are more often malnourished than boys
and spend more time than boys in child care, housework and agricul-
tural activities, they may more often be tired when they are in
class and may have great difficulty concentrating, performing well
and staying in school.
Furthermore, malnutrition lowers resistance to infectious and
parasitic diseases, and parasitic diseases contribute to malnutrition.(71)
Light infections with Ascariasis, for example, diminish children's
- 18 -
ability to absorb nutrients so that 3% of ingested calories are
lost and heavy infections can lead to non-utilization of 25% of
ingested calories. Malnourished girls are found to suffer from
chronic infections such as ear, eye, skin and upper respiratory
diseases (colds, bronchitis, asthma) which further lower their
stamina and impair their ability to attend school, to concentrate,
and to perform at a satisfactory level.73
9. Educational Sex-Segregation
The existence of sex-segregation at the primary school level
more clearly than at the secondary school level indicates the preva-
lence of traditional sex role stereotypes and women's inferior sta-
tus. We could, therefore, hypothesize that sex-segregation represents
an additional barrier to women's access to formal education, but not
enough information is available from rural areas of LDC's to test this
" 19 -
C. FACTORS FACILITATING-RURAL GIRLS' ACCESS TO FORMAL EDUCATION
1. No Brothers in the Family. When there are only daughters, parents may
often choose the most intelligent girl (as a substitute for the missing son),
educate her as much as it is possible and have high aspirations for her. In
the absence of sons, parents cannot give priority to their education and
daughters have a better probability of attending school.
2. Visible Disabilities. Girls with visible disabilities, congenital or
acquired in childhood, are encouraged, if not obliged, by their parents to
get educated. In an epidemiological study of chronic disabilities including
the study of attitudes toward the disabled, in rural Orissa and Maharashtra
in India, it was found that the visible disability was viewed as a clear
obstacle to the girls' ability to marry. They were, therefore, educated in
order to obtain the necessary skills for survival. In this situation, schools
became accessible even when they were at a great distance or even when the
girls could not walk since the father was willing to carry her back and forth
from school. It is interesting to note that boys' disabilities did not neces-
sarily increase their chances of schooling; on the contrary, in some cases
they became an additional obstacle.(75)
3. High Socio-Economic Status. As we already saw, the higher the parents'
socio-economic status, the greater the probability that rural girls will
complete primary school.
4. Women's Literacy and Education Becomes a Marriage Asset. The assertion
made by the Indian National Committee on the Status of Women that "the
strongest social support for girls' education comes from its increasing
demand in the marriage market" is definitely correct with regard to primary
school education. Literate women and women with a primary school education
are by now more desirable brides than illiterate ones even in the rural areas
of most LDC's such as, India and the Muslim North Nigeria, It is above this
elementary education that the evidence becomes mixed as the desirability of
women's higher education is tempered by men's fears that well educated
women will not be willing to accept a subordinate position vis-a-vis their
5. The Presence of Female Role Models. As we saw already, the presence of
women teachers is usually related with girls' higher access to formal educa-
tion. The same, although not so strong a relationship, seems to exist between
the presence of women family planning motivators or health auxilliaries. This
was documented in a nutritional study carried out in several Guatemalan
villages during which girls' mental development scores were improved partly
because they were given a protein supplement and partly because the model
provided by the female nurses, nutritionists and program assistants involved
in the study allowed girls to have occupational expectations for their own
future. Improved mental development scores help the girls do better in school
and, therefore, improve their chances of staying longer in school since usually
only the smart girls are encouraged by teachers and parents alike.
- 21 -
D. POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
Some of the policies which would help increase rural girls' access
to primary school education are policies which would help increase access
of low income children of both sexes to primary education. This is so be-
cause sex differentials in access to primary education are much more ac-
centuated among low income households, districts, and nations in which
choices must be made as to who can get educated. Policies aiming to im-
prove low income children's educational chances benefit both boys and
girls. Such policies include:
1. Compulsory primary school education combined with self-help
rural development projects which involve the community with the
building of schools utilizing local material and know-how as
well as their maintenance. In addition, the community should be
responsible for providing housing for teachers, especially women
teachers, thus, partially subsidizing their expenses in order to
be able to attract and keep them. The teacher and the students,
with the help of agricultural extension, could develop agricultural
projects (such as a small garden) which could help support the
school while at the same time providing the rural boys and girls
with valuable agricultural information.
Compulsory primary school education in a poor country
either would not be adopted as a policy or would not be imple-
mented due to prohibiting costs unless massive foreign aid was
made available. The backing of such a policy with concrete com-
munity involvement and contributions increases the probability
that a policy of compulsory primary school education will, in
- 22 -
fact, be implemented. Also, in this way, rural students would be
able to go to a school in their own village rather than have to
walk often long distances which tends to increase girls' withdraw-
al from school.
Since no systematic evaluation data are available as to the
degree to which compulsory primary school education improves rural
girls' access to primary education, it is not possible to determine
whether the gap between boys' and girls' access to primary educa-
tion is decreasing and whether this decrease is due to the imple-
mentation of the compulsory education policy.
2. The compulsory primary education should be strengthened by:
a) giving teachers and students free textbooks and other
educational material which can dramatically improve the
amount of knowledge accessible to boys and girls and in-
crease their motivation to stay in school.
b) Some kind of food program offering breakfast and lunch
to pupils, and thus, reaching the most frequently malnour-
ished group, the rural school-age girls.
c) Basic education in hygiene, innoculations against infec-
tious diseases, parasitic treatments, antibiotics, and vita-
min supplements. The realistic implementation of this pol-
icy requires that teachers (especially those to serve in
rural and low-income urban areas) should receive some basic
education in hygiene and health as well as some practical
health skills such as being able to innoculate the students.
Alternatively, in countries in which there are already auxili-
ary health workers at the village level, arrangements should be
- 23 -
made so that they can undertake this role within the schools.
3. Different types of policies and programs are needed to help decrease
the excessive time spent by rural women in household work which
has to be at least partially undertaken by children, especially
daughters. Such policies would include providing rural communi-
ties with accessible water so that girls are not burdened with
walking long distances in order to bring the needed water to the
household. Other policies would involve the development of ap-
propriate technology which is cheap, easy to use, and can relieve
women's and girls' housework burdens. Also, community development
workers, together with rural mothers, should devise some kind
of a rotating system of child care in which women exchange child
care services for farm labor and, thus, free their daughters from
the constraining "child-mother" role. All these policies would
tend to diminish children's immediate value as labor at home, es-
pecially girls' needed services so as to make primary education a
more viable and rational alternative.*
4. The calendar of rural primary schools could be adapted to crop-
ping patterns so as to correspond with the slack season in order
to maximize rural boys' and girls' school attendance.
5. Trained teachers can be supplemented by locally recruited "assist-
ant teachers" who, with less formal qualificatiornand lower salar-
ies can help implement universal primary education in low income
countries with a small number of teachers and large numbers of
rural boys and girls who must be reached. Some rural mothers
or young rural women may be employed as "assistant teachers," thus,
providing some female role models in schools until more women
*The underlying assumption that girls' freed time will be spent in school
is, however, untested. iIn poor households, it is entirely possible that
a competing alternative is involvement in income-generating activities.
- 24 -
teachers are educated and can be persuaded to accept.rural posts.
Such local "assistant teachers' often have better rapport with stu-
dents and parents than teachers who have come from other areas,
and may also make teachers from urban areas feel more comfortable
about coming to rural areas.
In addition to the above, more general policies directed to
all low-income children, some additional policies directly aiming
at widening rural girls' access to primary education are needed
in order to increase the probability that all policies would bene-
fit girls equally with boys. Such additional, more direct policies
are needed in order to overcome traditional sex role beliefs and
resistance toward women's education still prevailing in societies
in whichwomen have sharply unequal educational chances in compari-
son to men. Such policies would include:
6. The intensification of women's training as primary school teach-
ers through a variety of governmental and international aid pro-
grams providing training fellowships and subsidized housing to low-
income, particularly rural, women willing to work for a number of
years in rural areas. One such successful experiment took place in
Nepal where, in 1968, girls represented 13% of the students enrolled
in primary schools. The UNESCO project aimed to train women
primary school teachers, especially women from rural areas, to en-
courage and facilitate such training by providing hostel accommodations,
and to improve the training curricula by including development-related
subjects such as health, nutrition, sanitation, family planning, and
child care. The recruiting of eligible rural girls.proved to be
difficult because there were not enough women with the formal educa-
tional requirements, so it became necessary to enlarge the pool of
- 25 -
potential candidates by providing upgrading courses to rural girls
with insufficient educational qualifications. A mid-term evalua-
tion undertaken in 1973 showed that the average enrollment of girls
in the districts covered by the program was 24% of all primary
school students which represents significant improvement--in one
district/of 19%. It is also important to note that rural parents
viewed favorably the presence of women teachers and felt that they
would do much to encourage the increased enrollment of students.
7. In LDC's in which primary schools are sex-segregated, governments
and international aid programs should build girls' primary schools
in rural areas and make adequate provisions to staff them with
women teachers. Alternatively, governmental and international or-
ganizations could encourage the building of girls' schools in rural
areas through community self-help projects by providing incentives
such as food-for-work. Also, in countries in which primary educa-
tion is sex-segregated, efforts should be made to maintain education-
al parity between boys' and girls' schools in terms of curricula,
standards, teachers' qualifications, financial allocations, etc.
In LDC's, on the other hand, in which primary schools are co-educa-
tional, it should be made mandatory to enroll boys and girls in equal
8. Since it is very difficult to'change the sex role stereotypes and
the traditional beliefs of teachers so as to equalize their treatment
of boys and girls in the classroom, it is possible to change teach-
ers' motivational structure and classroom behavior by manipulating
rewards. In order to motivate primary school teachers to pay equal
attention to and take equal interest in girls as in boys, their per-
formance and promotions could be based upon the percentage of
girls who stay on and graduate from primary school. Also, govern-
ments as well as national and international women's organizations
could establish prizes for the most successful male and female
primary school teachers.
9. Compulsory elementary education in rural areas should be accompanied
by agricultural training equally accessible to boys and girls, the
equal numbers of boys and girls admitted to be strictly enforced.
In these agricultural training programs, girls should not be streamed
to separate, sex-appropriate programs but receive exactly the
same skills as boys.
10. Governments and international aid programs should intensify the train-
ing of rural women paraprofessional workers such as agricultural,
extension workers, community health auxiliaries, or multi-purpose
The training of such women paraprofessionals should be subsi-
dized by means of training grants and subsidized shelter in exchange
for several years of service in rural areas. The importance of the
presence of these women workers in rural areas in increasing rural
girls' access to education is considerable since they establish in
the parents' as well as in the girls' minds the economic and social
status relevance and pay-off of girls' education.
11. Primary school textbooks should be thoroughly revised (or.new ones.writ-
ten) so as to become free of blatantly sexist, demeaning statements
about women; and so as to render education relevant and meaningful
to rural girls. Women should be portrayed as farmers, traders, teach-
ers, nurses, agricultural extension workers, health auxiliaries, etc.
Special competitions and awards for the best non-sexist textbooks
. f -
could increase authors' motivation and help produce the appropriate
textbooks. In providing free textbooks to primary school teachers
and students, governments and international aid programs are in a
strong position to provide only nonsexist, high quality textbooks.
12. In view of the crucial importance of the mothers' education for
their children's and especially their daughters' access to primary
education as well as nutritional status, in areas in which the rate
of illiteracy among adult women is high, literacy programs for il-
literate mothers are highly needed. Only through literacy can mothers
become more interested in and more supportive of their daughters' edu-
cation so that girls are sent to school and are not soon taken out
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5. Ibid and UN, ECOSOC, op. cit.
6. UNESCO, op. cit., Table 18, p. 37.
7. UNESCO, op. cit.
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11. U.S. Agency for International Development, Project Paper: Nonformal
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12. Cynthia Xyntti, "Women in Rural Yemen," written for USAID Sana'a,
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14. Status of Women in India, op.cit. p. 9
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51. David Court and Dharam Ghai, "Education, Society and Development," in:
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