Lately, I have been thinking of the many opportunities I have been given for education. I am so blessed. I will be starting graduate school soon. Education has never been a question for me. I always knew I would graduate high school, learn another language (or two), attend a university, and even go to Graduate school. For so many others, this is not the case. Don’t take education for granted.

There is an extreme lack of educational opportunity among women in other countries, namely developing countries. I think about my mom in India, Laxmi, and her desire to learn, to be educated, but her desires are muffled by the needs of her family. I think about the sweet women I met in Mali who have never known the value of education; they have never known anything beyond feeding their children, selling good at the market, and cleaning their homes. I think about these girls in the small village of Kouri, Mali, who, in between bouts of broken French told me…

They wanted nothing more than to come to America to go to school, to be educated.

Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Jessop

Education is a key to development.

When a woman is educated, she is literate and she can communicate with other members of society and create additional opportunities for herself. Health education is particularly important for all women.

Girls and women all over the world remain deprived of full and equal opportunities for education. The UNESCO World Atlas argues that there has been progress towards parity in primary education; however, after secondary level education, this tapers off significantly in the developing regions. In Nicaragua, 45 percent of girls with no schooling are married before age 18 versus only 16 percent of their educated counterparts. In Mozambique, the figures are 60 percent versus 10 percent and in Senegal, 41 percent versus 6 percent. See what a little education can do? Education is a key to preventing immature childbirth and early childhood marriage (Girl Effect).

From research, we know that when a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, on average, she will marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children (Girl Effect). An extra year of primary school has proven to boost a girls’ wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school boosts their wage about 15 to 25 percent – one extra year of school! Think of how that one additional year could improve and change the course of their life.  In Half the Sky, Kristof and WuDunn argue:

“The single most important way to encourage women and girls to stand up for their rights is education, and we can do far more to promote universal education in poor countries.”

Emmanuel Jal, a child soldier-turned-rapper, shares his thoughts on the power of educating women. He says:

“The best way to help Sudan, is to educate its women.”

He speaks of his sister who was raped during the civil war. Rather than sit and complain about it, she has turned her pain into positive actions, because “she understands the power of education.” He goes on to say that women are much more clever than men but never have the chance to fully demonstrate their strength. Women are the ones who educate the kids and teach them how to behave; they take care of the household and make sure everyone gets fed. “Men are too busy talking politics and killing each other” (World Bank).

In Kenya, if every girl completed secondary school, this would add about $27 billion to the economy over the course of their lifetimes (Girl Effect). In Ethiopia, if girls completed secondary education, nearly $6.8 billion would be contributed. These are astronomical figures.

In October 2010, The World Bank started an initiative called “Educate a Woman, Build a Nation…” They created an Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) to help young women get jobs after high school.  This program also encourages the girls to finish high school. Since its inception, almost 20,000 adolescent girls from Afghanistan to Rwanda have been impact (Girl Effect). In their occupational training programs, they have a nearly 95 percent completion rate. BRAC reaches nearly 800,000 girls globally by providing girl spaces, life skills, and access to microfinance (Girl Effect). Movements like the AGI, and other similar initiatives launched by BRAC, the NoVo Foundation, and the Nike Foundation, have changed the way the world perceives the importance of education for both men, and women.

Education can transform and empower girls and women to create sustainable development for society as a whole.


Girl Effect: Fact Sheet.

UNESCO: World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education.  United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 1-94.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

World Bank: Key Issues on Gender and Development.

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