On International Day of the Girl, Proof That Education is Power

By Kakenya Ntaiya

Today, the International Day of the Girl, is an important day as the international community recognizes the rights of girls and the unique challenges girls face around the world.

This year’s theme is “innovating for girls’ education.” Why education? Education is one of the most powerful tools an individual can have, and for a girl the benefits are enormous. An educated girl will delay marriage, she is more likely to have fewer children, her children are more likely to go to school, and she will contribute to the economy of her country.

Kakenya Ntaiya picture
Kakenya Ntaiya founded one of the first and only primary schools for girls in the Maasai region of Kenya. Photograph by Mark Thiessen, National Geographic

Around the world 61 million children are denied the right to a basic education, and of that number 60 percent are girls. Where are these girls?

Many are forced to undergo female genital cutting and they are married off. Every year 14 millions girls are married as children, and they end up in vicious cycle where girl’s dreams are never realized because they’re married off at a tender age.

Girls face enormous challenges when it comes to accessing education. They are at high risk of rape and sexual harassment to and from school, they lack latrines and sanitary resources, they are forced to stay home during their menstrual periods, and at home they play the role of a mother by raising their younger siblings, cooking for the family, collecting firewood, fetching water, and many more.

In communities like ours in the Maasai region of Kenya, where girls are married off at a tender age of puberty, education is never a priority. Their dreams are crushed even before they start dreaming.

Ntaiya at the Kakenya Center for Excellence, a school she founded in a rural Maasai village in Kenya, in 2011. Photograph by Philip Andrews, National Geographic

Five years ago when we started the Kakenya Center for Excellence, girls in our community did not even know that they had the right to go to school. They did not know that female genital cutting is against the law. They did not know that there are laws that protected them from being forced to marry before they are 18 years old.

Today, more than 150 girls in our community are receiving an education that will forever alter the course of their lives. Today, over 300 girls in our community have received training on their rights, the effects of female genital cutting and early marriage, their right to education, and the tools they need to be leaders in our community.

Today, leaders in our community, women and men have joined us to raise the awareness of girl education in our country, and to sensitize the community about the importance of educating girls. We join the international community in celebrating and pushing for further strides in reducing the disparity in access to education between girls and boys. We stand together in agitating for the end of obstacles that hinder girls worldwide from accessing education.

Kakenya Ntaiya picture
Ntaiya talks to girls at the Kakenya Center for Excellence in 2011. Photograph by Philip Andrews, National Geographic

Today we proclaim that girls are equal contributors to our society as boys, provision of education is a necessity, and the contribution of girls does not discriminate anyone in the society. Today, let’s stand together and unleash girls’ potential.

Ntaiya, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, is an educator and activist who founded the Kakenya Center for Excellence, one of the first and only primary schools for girls in the Maasai region of Kenya. A passionate advocate for girls’ education, Ntaiya persuaded her father that she not follow traditional Maasai culture and marry at age 13. She became the first girl in her village to pursue an education in the United States, where she completed her Ph.D. in 2012. This week, Ntaiya was named one of CNN’s Top Ten Heroes of 2013. Also, click on this link to vote for Ntaiya as the top CNN Hero.

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