In developing communities, there are three structural issues that prevent a girl from fulfilling her right to education: Her gender, her zip code, and her economic condition. Deep-rooted stigmas against women’s education, conjoined with region-specific interventions and the heavy burden of tuition costs, form what is commonly perceived as an unbreakable barrier to girls’ education. As a result, child marriage, sex trafficking and forced prostitution become horrific alternatives to education, so-called substitutes to schooling that leave a country ensnared in a labyrinthine web of gender-based violence, economic paralysis, and ill health.
For so many girls in the world, going to school remains a distant dream, an unattainable ecstasy that hovers beyond reach. But as champions for social change, we must understand just what women’s education holds for the lives of the female students we read about – and what it offers for our world as we know it. Exactly what is girls’ education, and where does its significance and relevance lie? Without further ado, girls’ education is a worthy investment as it is…
1. A fundamental right that warrants universal access. Education is more often perceived as a privilege granted to people living in the lap of luxury, rather than a critical necessity that everyone should share (Human Rights Declaration, Article 26). Girls should be able to pursue knowledge in their chosen fields, to have enriching learning experiences and complete their primary, secondary and tertiary education programs, regardless of their gender.
2. A catalyst for gender equality. Gender inequality is manifested in myriad forms, including, but not limited to income disparities, wage discrimination, gender roles assigned in the domestic sphere, female infanticide, and sexual subjugation. By investing in a girl’s education, girls will be given the chance to realize their full human rights and contribute to the very fabric of our society, reaping the benefits of economic, social and political development (US Agency for International Development). They will be able to form the next generation of women leaders, and make groundbreaking strides toward bridging the gender gap.
3. The key to poverty alleviation within less economically developed countries (LEDCs). Educating girls has always been at the forefront of poverty reduction in LEDCs. Schooling not only imbues a girl with the confidence needed for her to stand up for herself and make a blow against social injustice, it also helps foster economic growth and is crucial to lifting households out of poverty (World Bank).
4. Instrumental in bringing about economic growth. Girls’ education eradicates poverty and fosters economic growth. The statistics? Girls who have one extra year of schooling than the national average can earn 10% to 20% more on average, with an 18% return in future wages if they have completed a secondary education. This is significantly higher than the 14% return in future wages for boys in developing regions (Center of Global Development). Furthermore, each extra year of schooling provided to the whole population (females included) can increase average annual GDP growth by 0.37% (Global Campaign for Education).
5. Essential for reducing the number of child marriages. There is a positive multiplier effect to educating girls and women. In Tanzania, women who received a secondary school education are 92% less likely to be coerced into child and adolescent marriage, compared to women who only received a primary school education (UNICEF). Child marriage is a human rights violation, entailing grave consequences for girls, including an increased risk of HIV/AIDS coupled with higher levels of domestic violence and abuse (International Center for Research on Women).
6. A successful formula for individual empowerment. Women who receive formal education become more aware of their rights and are able to defend themselves when their basic human rights are compromised or violated. For women in developing communities, many of these violations take the forms of sex trafficking, forced prostitution, and gender-based violence. The Half the Sky Movement attributes female violence to two mindsets firmly ingrained in many societies all over the world: misogyny and sexism. But education plays an integral role in triggering a change in cultural norms, by shedding light on the detriments that arise from these discriminatory attitudes.
7. A proven cause of lowered maternal and infant mortality rates. There exists a consistent negative causal relationship between maternal education and child mortality; as the amount of educated women in a society increases, the amount of infant deaths decreases. Women with formal education will have learned about the importance of prenatal care, hygienic child care practices, vaccinations and high-level nutrition for themselves and their children. In addition, an education will provide these women with ideas of where to turn to for health care advice and medical treatment. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a projected 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in 2008 if their mothers had a secondary education (UNESCO).
8. Critical to a decline in fertility rates. Educating a girl will not only increase her employment opportunities by dramatic proportions, it will also provide her with knowledge about family planning, employment, schooling and health opportunities for her future generations. Adam Isen and Betsey Stevenson from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania have written that greater “access to education and higher potential wages, combined with improved control over fertility, has altered the incentives that women face”. The stark decline in fertility rates gives rise to more sustainable family units, and this lesser amount of children in a society allowed for more resources to be allocated to each individual child.
9. A steppingstone to improved women’s health. The facts and figures to back this up? Girls with at least six years of school education are more likely to be able to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and other diseases (UNICEF). An additional four years of education will reduce the risk of heart disease by 2.16%, and the risk of diabetes by 1.3%, for either gender (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
10. A pivotal force for change in societies and communities. This African proverb encapsulates this idea completely: “If we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family – and a whole nation.” In addition to eradicating the deep-seated cultural prejudices against women, educating girls will also engender a culture of education that will transcend generations. Women who have had the opportunities of formal schooling are more than twice as likely to send their own children to school, as compared with women with no formal education (UNICEF).
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Featured image courtesy of Starfish One by One.