In the U.S., women are doing pretty well when it comes to education. Somewhere around 57% of those enrolled in college are women and, according to recent statistics, more young women have college degrees than young men: 32.7% versus 25.8%. While it’s not uncommon for women here and in many other places to earn a college degree, or even multiple degrees, in many countries around the world women aren’t even taught to read and rarely make it through basic education, let alone college. Here are a few of the nations where women are unlikely to get a shot at pursuing higher education. Sadly, it’s far from a complete list of all the places where women have little opportunity to pursue education, work, and, in turn, find independence and a voice for themselves.
Yemen has remained at the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s list of the countries with the biggest gender gap for several years, and for good reason. Women in Yemen only have a 55% literacy rate, one of the lowest in the world. The highly conservative nation puts little emphasis on education for women, with nearly half of young girls never setting foot in a classroom and many more getting little past elementary classes. UNICEF reports that the gender gap in education in Yemen is amongst the highest in the world, and only increases in high school and college, where women are a relative rarity. Why? 52% of women in Yemen are married before 18 (in rural areas, some are married as young as eight), many families and husbands object to women taking college courses, and restrictions against co-education with men at any level, including college, make education difficult. In 2006, just 44,564 women nationwide graduated from high school and of those women only one in 10 got the opportunity to register for college. Experts estimate that less than 1% of Yemen’s female population ever makes it to college.
Education for women in Afghanistan has been unstable at best for several decades. Deep-seated beliefs that women shouldn’t attend school, coupled with wars that have crippled the education system, have reduced any gains made in women’s education, especially at the tertiary level. Currently, just 12.6% of Afghanistan’s women are literate, making the nation the worst in terms of basic literacy anywhere in the world. Things are improving, but slowly. While more girls are attending school, they’re still subject to violent attacks from Taliban insurgents, and many are not allowed to be taught in schools with male teachers, which often means not going to school at all. Today, 37% of primary school students are girls and literacy rates are slowly creeping up, but it will be decades before colleges see significant enrollments of female students as they did in the ’70s and ’80s.
According to data from the WEF, Chad is among one of the worst countries in the world for women’s equality, especially when it comes to education. Women in Chad have a 24.2% literacy rate, and with few knowing how to read, there’s little hope of attending college for most women in the African nation. Just 51% of women and girls in Chad attend or have attended primary school, just 5% secondary school, and a saddening 1% university-level study. Yet when it comes to higher education, the gender divide isn’t that big: just 4% of Chad’s men go to college, marking an education crisis that extends far beyond gender.
Mozambique has made amazing strides in getting women into leadership positions in the nation, especially in government where women now make up 39.2% of the parliament members. Yet the nation still lags in providing educational opportunities for women. While education for girls at the primary level seems to be very common, with 87% attending school, it drops off significantly at higher levels of education. Only 17% of young women are enrolled in secondary school, a figure that translates to a dismal 1% attending tertiary-level courses. Older generations may be worse off than younger ones, as literacy rates for women in the nation expose: just 43% of women over age 15 can read and write.
Hopefully, as more young girls attend school and see women in positions of power, college will become an increasingly common aspiration.
Tanzania has some of the lowest college attendance levels for women anywhere in the world, even though most girls have access and enroll in primary education. According to recent data, 98% of Tanzania’s young girls attend primary school, a figure equal to that of boys. Sadly, both boys and girls are equally unlikely to continue education beyond that level. Only 5% of students overall will go on to secondary education, and just 2%, again for both genders, will make it into college. In Tanzania, it’s not just women who are unlikely to go to college, but anyone at all.
While a massive girls’ education campaign has helped to make big improvements in the number of girls who attend primary and secondary schools in Burkina Faso, there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made. In fact, few people in Burkina Faso ever make it to secondary school, let alone college, regardless of gender. Literacy rates hover at about 21.8% on average, with only 15% of women being able to read and write. Just 61% of women go to primary school and 16% to secondary school, with male rates of achievement only being slightly higher. When it comes to college, only 3% of women will ever set foot in a university classroom, making the college achievement rate one of the lowest in the world.
In Nepal, educational achievement of girls is held back by cultural preferences that prioritize the education of boys, early marriage, poverty, and even girls being sold off for indentured servitude. Far fewer women can read and are enrolled in school than men, marking a huge gender gap in the mountain nation’s educational system. The most recent data on the country found that only 64% of women attend primary school and 40% secondary school. In contrast, 78% of men go to primary school and 44% secondary school. The gap continues into tertiary education, with only 4% of women going to college and 8% of men (though achievement levels are distressingly low for both sexes).
Despite the fact that primary education in Mali is compulsory for both boys and girls until age 12, just 59% of girls attend school. That statistic grows smaller for each successive grade, with just 25% of women enrolling in secondary education, and just 4% in college. Female enrollment in school remains low at all levels due to poverty, cultural preferences for educating boys, and early marriages for girls, not to mention lack of transportation, teachers, and instructional materials. As a result, literacy rates for women in Mali hover around 20.3%. While equality and access to education for women in Mali are better than in other places on this list, many still lack the resources and support to pursue education through the college level.
The educational opportunities available to women in Pakistan vary depending on where they live. Women in urban areas have higher literacy rates and access to education than those in rural areas, who sometimes get little or no education at all. Literacy levels nationwide for women hover around 40%, but are significantly higher in cities. Today, about 67% of Pakistan’s young girls attend primary school, but only 29% will go on to secondary school, and just 5% will enroll in a college or other kind of tertiary learning, despite there being a number of women-only colleges in the nation. What holds women back? Lack of access to education, poverty, a preference to educate boys, cultural norms, and young marriage all play a role.
In Benin, only 30% of women are able to read and write by age 15. While a significant percentage today do attend primary school (about 81%), many still lack adequate access to educational opportunities and often face cultural preferences for educating boys. Educational achievement for women drops precipitously after primary school, with only 13% of women going on to secondary education. As a result, very few women ever make it to college. According to recent data from the WEF, only 6% of Benin’s women go on to enroll at a college or university.