The Importance of Educating Girls

Blog post by Lisa Öhman, intern at Flickaplattformen

This text is based on my final thesis for my bachelor in Development Studies. My thesis is a discourse analysis of texts collected from governmental development agencies, analysing their call on the importance of girls’ education.

During the past decades, gender and education have become central elements in debates about development aid. Today, almost all international development organizations have included a gender perspective in their work. The reason why education for girls and gender equality have become such central parts of development aid can be traced to the many direct effects it has on economic growth and human welfare. It is often argued in development discourses that educating girls and women is an investment that is worthwhile. This view of girls’ education as a tool for development is often described as instrumentalism.

This instrumentalist view on girls’ education has received criticism. The central argument against it is that girls’ education is only seen as being of importance due to its effect on development. I argue that the instrumental theory is flawed, because if it would be proven that it is instead women’s oppression and lack of education that would lead to economic growth,  the logic of the instrumental theory would then lead to actions taken against girls’ education. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the moral aspects of instrumentalism.

In my view the discourse on gender equality is an important part of creating equality. The way a problem is formulated affects the actual solution to the problem. We can therefore not only focus on what practically is being done for girls’ education but also why it is presented as an issue in need of a solution. We must also critically scrutinise solutions that are presented in public and academic discourses. If we constantly argue for gender equality and women’s presence in the public sphere in instrumentalist terms and argue that it is important because of what effects it can have, real gender equality will not be reached, as women’s presence only becomes valued when it has a positive effect on others.

By using instrumentalist arguments, women are continuously being told what to do by others than themselves. Instead of being controlled by a patriarchal society where they are told that they should become wives and mothers they are instead being told by development advocates that they should become a part of the economy and strive for employment in specific sectors. We need to focus more on strengthening girls and giving them autonomy to decide what they want to do with their lives instead of telling them how to act. Instrumental arguments creates the image that women’s education is only important when it has a positive effect on development, and education is thus of no use if girls do not use it for something that has an economic or human welfare effect.

In my thesis I found that the most dominant view of the importance of girls’ education was the instrumental one. I wanted to focus on the discourse on girls’ education because it is often viewed as the solution for developing countries that will change everything. One cannot argue with the fact that girls’ education can have a lot of positive effects, but it is also of relevance to analyse why these effects are the main focus of organizations that invest in girls’ education. I believe that the main focus when claiming that girls should be educated should be the rights of the girls themselves – instead of the effect their education can have on their family, community and country’s economic development.

Cover image: Hungerprojektet

Potato Salad or Global Public Health: Invest in Something that Matters

I sat with Derek Fetzer, Co-Founder and Team Leader of Caring Crowd in a quaint café in the Johnson & Johnson headquarters during their Global Citizen Summit. He told me about the significance of this new crowdfunding platform and the various ways young leaders in the health sector can become involved.

After explaining the purpose of Caring Crowd, he pointed out that Johnson & Johnson is genuinely invested as a sponsor and truly values the needs and wellbeing of those they serve. During his thirty second shark-tank-style pitch, he – the multimillion dollar investor – explained to me why I should donate to a Caring Crowd project. Among some of those reasons were:

  • We are sponsored by Johnson & Johnson
  • Health workers are passionate about their involvement
  • The sole focus is global public health
  •  All projects are registered 501 © 3

The projects on the Caring Crowd platform highlight the power of people working together to ensure the wellbeing of others. In his interview he talked about the easy process for individuals to apply as well as the role of a digital presence and accountability. He shared his thoughts on the typical idea of infectious diseases as interconnected but also mentioned the limited attention to health and well being as a point of interconnectivity. A couple of years ago, a Kickstarter project for making potato salad raised over $50,000 – just imagine what we could achieve, if people would be as willing and eager to invest in public health as they were in a side dish. Consider this:

In some parts of the world it only takes $100 to treat tuberculosis for 6 months.

Derek Fetzer finds a never-ending wealth of inspiration from the patients and people benefiting from the Caring Crowd platform. An inspirational platform and an inspiring leader.

Girls’ Globe was sponsored by Johnson & Johnson to provide coverage during the Global Citizen 2016 Festival and to share the stories of the Young Leaders who are participating in the activities in New York. 

Featured image: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Herd Boys in Lesotho

Young Thabo left school at nine years of age to tend sheep, goats and cattle in the treacherous mountain passes of Lesotho, in southern Africa. Despite his young age, he lived in complete isolation for months at a time, with only the company of the herd and two dogs. Thabo made the journey back to his family twice a year in the winter, so the animals could be checked, counted, and kept warm for a brief period.

Thabo’s interactions with people were strained – he was accustomed to hitting and yelling at stubborn animals to express his displeasure and get results.

If hitting and yelling worked with his herd, why not with people?

In the solitude of the mountains, Thabo’s word was law. There was no one to ask permission from and no one to guide him about what was right and wrong. In a world where aggression was a survival tactic, he knew no other way. Sexual violence, rape, and physical abuse were acceptable. Thabo believed that it was his right as a man to take what he wanted from a woman. In the herd, there was no such thing as consent.

Although Thabo’s story is startling, it is the reality for countless boys in Lesotho. For most rural families, their animal stock is their only means of providing for themselves. They cannot afford to lose their herds to thieves and stock theft is an all too common problem. Thus, they send their boys up into the mountains, away from thieving hands, to keep watch over the herds day and night. Some herd boys must even watch the herds of several families.

Without any education or guidance, the herd boys become awkward social pariahs, which only increases their feelings of isolation and loneliness.

 

Thabo is 17 now, and is, by his own admission, a much different person. He recently completed Help Lesotho’s six month “Herd Boy Training Program” that provides much-needed support and education for the herd boys. Topics include healthy relationships, preventing HIV transmission, reproductive health, gender equity, preventing sexual and domestic violence, the effects of drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, self-esteem, and role modelling. For Thabo, and many herd boys like him, being part of the program made him feel connected to society:

“All the issues that were being discussed are the issues that affect us as human beings. Whereas in other meetings, we felt like objects. We felt like objects because the only important things in those meetings were the animals that we are taking care of, not us.”

His coping mechanisms no longer include hitting and yelling. He understands that women deserve the same respect he does. He recognizes gender equity doesn’t imply that men are inferior. He feels a sense of self-worth. He knows that he is intrinsically valuable as a person, not just as an animal guardian.

But perhaps the most astounding thing about Thabo is that despite the hardships he has faced and the abandonment he has experienced, he now believes that he can make a difference in his community. He feels compelled to share what he has learned, particularly about gender-based violence and HIV transmission, with other herd boys. Thabo now proudly acts as an ambassador for change in the very community that shunned him.

At 17 years of age, he has turned his life around.

Finding Perspective on World Water Day

Post Written by Jennifer Iacovelli

Three weeks after I realized my marriage was ending, I traveled to Nicaragua with WaterAid on an insight trip representing Mom Bloggers for Social Good. We visited the most remote areas of the country to see the work that WaterAid was doing with communities lacking clean water access and basic sanitation. It was a life-changing experience that allowed me to gain a tremendous amount of perspective.

I met women and teens who were trained by WaterAid to build wells and toilets for their communities. These were women whose husbands were typically away during the week working in the city, and teen girls who missed a tremendous amount of school, if they went at all, because of their household responsibilities. Fetching water from the river took up valuable time that they could have used to work or go to school. The training allowed them to not only gain valuable skills and earn money, but it also empowered them to become leaders in their community.

A few of the women even got to hire their own husbands for work when they needed extra help on projects. They beamed when they gave me this information.

I remember asking Linda what she purchased with the extra cash she earned by building and maintaining wells in her small community. She told me that she was able to purchase things like shoes and books for her children. Rarely did she purchase anything for herself.

I was struck by how similar I was to these women. While our circumstances were most certainly different, as mothers all we wanted was to provide for our children. To keep them happy and give them the basic things they needed in life.

Once my divorce was finalized, I started to focus more on taking care of myself. I joined a gym and decided that I wanted my physical strength to match my mental strength. After going through a tumultuous seven months, I was ready to take control of my life again. I did just that. The result? I gained more strength than I ever thought possible.

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Photo Credit: Wolfpack Fitness

Along the way, I found a caring and supportive community in WolfPack Fitness that didn’t judge me for my small size or marital status. I found a trainer that challenged me and showed me what my body was capable of. I found women and men who lifted each other up. I found a place where “like a girl” was not an insult.

WaterAid2
Photo Credit: Wolfpack Fitness

I also found a place where I could bring my passion for clean water for everyone. This past weekend we honored the strong, empowered women and teens I met in Nicaragua with a water-themed outdoor workout to celebrate World Water Day. We went #blue4water, wearing the color blue and turning our non-traditional gym equipment – cinderblocks, sledgehammers, tires and buckets – blue. We told a Nicaragua-inspired water story through our movements, even pushing a car up a hill to mimic how my team and I would often have to get our car going during our trip. Together, we raised $250 for WaterAid America.

My kids asked me the other day if I was stronger than their dad. They didn’t wait for an answer. They were already convinced I am. They see me work day in and day out to keep everything going. Though it’s not all that pretty or organized, I get the job done.

As mothers and women we do extraordinary things every day. I am thankful to have met Linda and the other women and girls in Nicaragua who are making the most of the opportunities in front of them so that they can live the best life possible. I only wish they didn’t have to live in an area where finding clean water and a toilet was such a challenge.

I hope you will join me in celebrating World Water Day by wearing blue and raising awareness of the fact that 650 million people around the world are still lacking access to safe, clean water.