Nepal overtakes India and Pakistan in girls’ opportunity index; Maldives the best in South Asia

Ram KhatryBy Ram Khatry, Sydney
12 October 2016

Nepal, although small and underdeveloped, has overtaken its giant and relatively better-off neighbours in a 40-page global report ranking the best and worst countries to be a girl in.

Out of 144 countries covered by the report, which is titled Every Last Girl: Free to live, free to learn, free from harm, Nepal has been ranked 85th followed by Pakistan at 88th position and India the 90th.

However, girls fare the best in the Maldives among South Asian nations. The multi-island nation in the Indian Ocean occupies a respectable 50th position. Afghanistan, on the other hand, is the worst country in South Asia when it comes to the rights and freedom of girls. The war-torn nation is ranked 121st.

Produced by Save the Children, the report measures countries against five key indicators which are early marriage, adolescent pregnancy, maternal mortality, women in parliament, and secondary school completion.

Save the Children
Sixteen year old Nepalese student Bhawani talks about child marriage and the importance of family planning at a children’s club I Source: Save the Children

At the heart of the report is a realisation that the overall development of societies is not imaginable by excluding an all-round development of the fair sex. To borrow the words of Tanzanian activist Rebeca Zakayo Gyumi, “a girl doesn’t win
alone – everybody does”. In other words, educate the girls and no one loses.

According to the report, Nepal’s performance is partly due to its relatively good lower-secondary school completion rate for girls, which, at 86%, is similar to Spain’s. However, Nepal could advance further, particularly through a focus on child marriage and maternal mortality.

Despite Nepal’s mid-range performance, there are concerning issues the mountain nation needs take stock of. “Deep inequalities exist in Nepal between girls and boys in health and education outcomes. Girls from poor families, minority groups and lower castes fare particularly badly,” the report points out.

According to thevery-girle report, in Nepal as well as in Tanzania, poor girls are four times more likely to marry early than the richest girls.

In neighbouring India, a study has found a proven way to put a stop to this scourge of early marriage – education. “A study from India found education to be the most important factor in delaying marriage and pregnancy. Several studies have found that compulsory education laws that require girls to stay in school up to the age 16 significantly reduce the likelihood of child marriage,” the Save the Children report said.

According to a research carried out in India, around half of the girls affected by early child marriage live in South Asia. “Policy-makers, practitioners and researchers increasingly recognize that child marriage can undermine progress toward basic development goals, such as reducing maternal and infant mortality, preventing HIV infection, improving women’s educational and economic status, and ensuring gender equality and human rights,” the International Center for Research on Women report said.

Sweden comes first among the  144 countries included in the Every Last Girl: Free to live, free to learn, free from harm report while Sub-Saharan African country Niger has been identified as the worst country for girls.

Change is possible

Despite the nasty challenges on the way, Save the Children is hopeful one day the world will become a place where girls enjoy as much power and freedom as boys. “Tackling the root causes of girls’ exclusion and disempowerment is not easy – that’s an understatement. But with sustained effort and investment, change is possible,” the UK-based charity said on October 11.

Save the Children Australia not happy

Save the Children Australia issued a statement yesterday deploring the country’s “poor rating” – 21st out of the 144 nations. It said Australia’s poor performance was due to “the low proportion of women in parliament and a relatively high teen pregnancy rate”.

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