Cultural norms fence girls inside the private sphere, keeping them out of the public sphere of the market and school. Females have been considered beneath males in every culture. Many cultures see this as positive, as protectiveness, and as a way to honor a woman. However, this sheltering can prevent girls from getting an education and becoming empowered to make decisions for their own lives.
One deterrent to girls attending school is the distance between home and school. The further the distance, the more vulnerable the girl is, as opposed to a boy, to abduction or rape. In some cases, the risk is real. Some instances the perception of vulnerability has caused cultural traditions of females being escorted by males when in public, and a girl would bring dishonor to her family by walking alone. Without transportation or an escort, the female children are forced to stay home while the male children walk to school.
More importantly, within the doorway of school, girls are sexually abused and this atrocious behavior continues to higher education. According to UNICEF’s Girls, HIV/AIDS, and Education, “In an educational setting in Ecuador, 22 percent of adolescent girls reported being sexually abused at school” (n.d. pg. 10). Rape in secondary schools by fellow students and teachers is a horrible problem in South Africa (UNICEF, n.d.). In certain Latin American law, rape if followed by marriage negates punishment. Rape is not the only cause of young brides in developing countries, but is a cause that victimizes young scholars who would choose to delay marriage in order to go to school. Many researchers see sexual harassment and assault at the secondary level as one cause of girls not attaining higher education. This safety issue creates a barrier to girls even when they are able to physically attend.
Another barrier to girls education is traditional gender roles. Male or female roles are very specific in many developing countries with girls taking care of the responsibilities within the home, such as child and elderly care. The traditional role of females in the home leads to many girls speaking the mother-tongue language only, not the language of instruction that their brothers learn at the market. In countries where AIDS is prevalent, the girl in the family must forfeit school to care for the infected or orphaned. Also, teenage pregnancy causes girls to drop-out of school to care for their child while the father continues his education.
Fencing girls inside the private sphere may be done with good intentions, but the effect is more boys getting an education than girls around the world. This creates gender inequality and the social ramifications of such.