Twelve-year old Lucia’s dream is to be able to graduate to secondary school, and stay there – to finish sixth form and go on to train as a pilot. Her older sister Barita wants to do computer studies. And Portia, the youngest in the family, wants to be a dressmaker. But tragically for these three sisters from one of Zimbabwe’s large scale commmercial farms, in tobacco country 50 miles outside Harare, they’re more likely to end up – as their mothers before them – with no formal education, working as seasonal labourers on the farm. The three sisters are AIDS orphans being brought up by their grandmother. She can only afford school fees for one girl, Lucia, to attend primary school. Across Africa, the odds are dramatically against girls getting an education. And even if they do attend primary school, they’re often withdrawn before they finish – to work as unpaid labourers for their extended family, to be married off or to have children. Only one in four school age girls in Burkina Faso ever attends school. Across the continent only 24 per cent of girls actually complete primary school, compared to 65-70 per cent for boys. As Harry Sawyer, Minister for Education in Ghana, wrote in a recent Unicef report, the obstacles to girls’ education are the same as those that undermine economic and social development everywhere, “but in the end, all the reasons add up to one: insufficient will.”
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