Every year for International Women's Day, the United Nations designates an ongoing women's issue as a theme. This year's was " Equal Access to Education, Training and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women." In his public message, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared "far too many girls are still denied schooling, leave prematurely or complete school with few skills and fewer opportunities." As an American audience, it's easy to look to other countries to place blame. After all, education has long been compulsory for both boys and girls in the United States. But there's a neglected population among American students: girls within the juvenile justice system.
We have long been highlighting human rights violations against girls in juvenile justice facilities, but lack of quality education often hides among the other abuses that are documented.
As part of our investigation into abuses at a Texas juvenile prison, the ACLU conducted interviews with dozens of incarcerated girls. As a recent college graduate myself, reading accounts of this particular violation of rights hits close to home.
For me, education is a right I largely took for granted. As young people, most of us have complained about teachers and griped about homework without giving a second thought to the benefits we were provided by those teachers and through that homework.
The girls in Texas complain about their teachers too, but not in the way that those who have had the chance to attend quality schools might complain. As one girl describes, her teacher "just threw me a packet, and said 'here do this.'" Another explains that her teachers provide guidance "if they're in the mood to help you." With these prevailing attitudes, the girls often have to teach themselves, leaving them frustrated and often falling behind. A 16-year-old describes her frustration, "I used to love school when I was out, you know, in the community, but in here they don't, ok, they set a book down for you … and they expect you to know what you're doing out of a progress sheet."
Most of us remember complaining about school and homework. These girls are doing just the opposite. They want a chance to learn, to get a quality education and not just fill out progress sheets. They deserve these rights. Juvenile justice facilities across the nation need to equip their charges with the education necessary to re-enter society so they can join their peers on the pathway to decent work. Only by addressing the educational needs of the most marginalized girls in our society can we hope to achieve full equality for all women and girls.
You can learn more about girls in juvenile justice facilities on this page, which features podcast interviews and photos of the Brownwood State School, a youth prison in Texas.
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