Closing the Gender Gap: Girls in Impoverished Countries Face Disadvantages – But Support From Children International Is Helping Change the Norms

Closing the Gender Gap: Girls in Impoverished Countries Face Disadvantages – But Support From Children International Is Helping Change the Norms

Multimedia from this Release

María expects her daughter, Lucia, to become a self-sufficient woman who won’t rely on a man to support her. ©2014 Children International

Edith’s lack of education is a hardship her daughters, Florence and Romance (pictured), won’t have to face. ©2014 Children International

María places great value on her great-granddaughter’s education. ©2014 Children International

Monday, June 16, 2014 - 1:05pm

CAMPAIGN: Empowering Girls

CONTENT: Article

By Gina Kellogg

The photos of girls outnumber those of boys as you scroll through the images of unsponsored children on our website, The reason for that imbalance can be found in the text of copious studies from esteemed organizations such as the United Nations, which cites that – worldwide – 33 million fewer girls than boys are in primary school. Or reports from the World Bank that note a child born to an uneducated mother is 50 percent more likely to die before age 5.

Whatever your source, though, the numbers boil down to one core fact: Girls need more help.

But you don’t need to thumb through stacks of statistics to understand why we must improve the situation of girls living in poverty. The stories of their mothers make the numbers heart-wrenchingly real.

A street education only gets you so far

Orphaned as a young girl, María Esperanza never gave a thought to school. She grew up on the streets of Guatemala, relying on her siblings for care. At 16, feeling she was a burden to them, she got married.

As time passed, and María had children of her own, she came to realize how disadvantaged she was. “Without an education, nobody respects you – or they respect you less,” she says. “It’s harder to find a stable job.”

The mother, who lives in Chimaltenango with her children, sees the benefits offered by Children International helping break the cycle of poverty in her family. “With Children International’s support, my children now have greater opportunities – opportunities I did not have,” she explains. “When they have children of their own, they’ll be able to help them with their homework, something I haven’t been able to do,” she says. “That makes me feel helpless and ignorant.”

Her daughter, Lucia, 11, will not go through what she did. “She’ll be able to become a better person,” she says, “a professional – to support her husband but not be completely dependent on him.”

 Married at 17, a widow by 35

Edith was luckier than many girls in Lusaka, Zambia. A good student, she made it through the ninth grade before her father lost his job and pulled her from school. Her parents tried to reassure Edith her brothers would pay for her education when they graduated. Angry at their lack of support and with no faith in her brothers’ commitment, however, Edith got married at 17.

“I knew that, without education, my future would be tougher – just as it is.” Thus, when her husband died, Edith’s resolve to keep her own girls in school only grew stronger.

Today, with her daughters, Florence, 17, and Romance, 10, enrolled in Children International’s sponsorship program, Edith feels confident their paths will be different. “I see a brighter future for my children as a result of what they are benefiting from through sponsorship,” she shares. “Sometimes, I sit down, close my eyes and imagine my children in a far better place than we are now as a result of education.”

Decades of desperation, but hope for the future

By age 6, María Socorro was the woman of the house. She remembers standing on a “big piece of thick wood” to reach the stove, cooking, sweeping, washing clothes and caring for her little brother.

Her father, a “traditional” Honduran, allowed her to go to school for two years. But, after his second wife tired of his conservative ways and abandoned the family, María says, “He took me out of school because, when he got home from work, the house wasn’t clean, and no food was ready.”

Fast forward 51 years, and María has different expectations for her great-granddaughter, Belkis, whom María is raising. She credits Belkis’ positive attitude toward education to the influence of Children International’s caring staff. Without that influence, María would have worried that the 9-year-old might follow the same path as Belkis’ mother, who got pregnant at age 12.

“Education is very important, very important,” María says. “Because, if you don’t know anything, what can you do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And when you can’t do anything, life is more difficult.”

Photos and reporting assistance by Chileshe Chanda, Javier Cárcamo and Jesús Almendárez.

This article is also available with additional information on the eNews section of our website.

Learn more about how Children International is empowering girls.

About Children International

Children International prepares children and youth to escape the traps of poverty by supporting their critical needs, building resilience, and engaging them in transformative activities. Children International accomplishes this by providing crucial benefits and compassionate care through easily accessible, modern community centers. Children International’s presence, programs and supporters have a positive impact on children, youth, families and communities; provide protection; encourage self-sufficiency; and serve as catalysts for change.

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Brittany Gelbach
+1 (816) 943-3832