Underage marriage is one of the reasons why girls leave high school early. (Supplied: Plan International)
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been urged to invest in girls’ education during his visit to Solomon Islands, as a report reveals the Pacific nation has one of the lowest secondary school graduation rates for girls in the world.
- Dropping out of high school can lead to unemployment and limited access to health care
- Girls are not valued as much as boys in the Solomons, according to Plan International
- Girls in the Solomons are campaigning for school fees to be abolished
Advocacy group Plan International revealed that while about 70 per cent of girls finish primary school, that figure plummets to just 7 per cent for secondary school.
The report listed mandatory school fees for years 10-12, high rates of gendered violence and underage marriage, and significantly fewer job opportunities for girls over boys as key reasons why girls leave school early.
Dropping out of high school can lead to unemployment, a lack of financial independence, and limited access to health care.
Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena said girls were not valued as much as boys in the Solomons and this had a massive impact on their lives and future prospects.
“They carry the burden of housework and child care, they face more risks when travelling to and from school, and their education isn’t prioritised by parents who are struggling financially,” she said.
Solomon Islands schoolgirls are campaigning their Government to abolish mandatory school fees for years 10 to 12. (Supplied: Plan International)
The report said girls perform a higher percentage of domestic chores, with an average of 18 hours every week dedicated to cleaning, cooking and caring duties in the home.
Social stigma towards girls who become pregnant out of wedlock or engage in relationships has also resulted in school expulsions or pressure to drop out of school, Plan International said.
Girls’ education should be ‘at the heart of’ aid strategy
Mr Morrison became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the Solomons since 2008. (AAP: Darren England)
Mr Morrison is pressing ahead with the Government’s ambitious Pacific step up by pledging $250 million for infrastructure during a visit to Honiara.
Ms Legena said she wanted Australia’s aid program to add a specific commitment to girls education to ensure that none are “left behind”.
“Australia is essentially undercutting its regional infrastructure investments in the Solomon Islands, because they are not investing in young people who will be key to the success or failure of these initiatives,” she said.
“We must do better by all the girls and young women of the Solomon Islands.
“We want girls to be at the heart of their aid strategy for the region and we would strongly encourage [the Australian Government] to join us in asking the Solomon Islands Government to abolish all school fees.”
The ABC approached the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment but it did not respond by publication time.
‘Education is truly transformational’
Girls who took part in the report saw education as a “path to employment”. (Supplied: Plan International)
Kate Phillips, who co-authored the Plan International report, told the ABC the Australian Government’s infrastructure spending should include improving school facilities for girls.
“Girls spoke to us about the need for more inclusive infrastructure, so more toilet blocks and shower blocks and more accessible infrastructure for girls with disabilities,” she said, adding that the 60 girls who took part in the report saw education as a “path to employment”, financial stability and being empowered.
“Education is truly transformational.
“For every year of secondary school completion, they are at less risk of child marriage and early pregnancy, and they’re more likely to achieve gender equity in their home and in their relationships.”
The schoolgirls told Plan International that abolishing school fees would be one of the best incentives to keep more girls in the education system.
Katrina, 17, who attends Mbokona Community High School in West Honiara, said making school more affordable would have a dramatic impact on the country’s health and prosperity.
“There are many smart girls out there who could have been educated but were never given the chance, or situations they are in prevent them from accessing education,” she said.
“If they were given the chance to attend school, they would become someone better in the future.”