Sunday, August 22, 2010

Girls and Education-Why Do They Matter?

If you were asked what was the driving force of human civilization from its dawn up until now, what would you answer? I would say-with no hesitation-that it was education. After all, it has all began with the drive for knowledge and discovery that separated hominids from the rest of apes, and led to the "pinnacle of evolution"-Homo sapiens sapiens. Think about it, how essential literacy and education have been to the development of the whole human civilization, how much they defined the status of a person in almost any given society! Historically the ones who possessed knowledge and knew how to read and write have been the elite. For many centuries this elite was very small and very rich, while the absolute majority of people lived in the darkness of ignorance, unable to help themselves and trapped in the cycle of poverty.

Things first changed with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg: suddenly anyone could learn how to read and write. That was a scary change for the upper-class that then consisted mainly of monarchy, feudals, and clergy, who literally were telling people what to think and what to believe. For the ordinary men, on the other hand, the invention of the printing press was the biggest breakthrough there has ever been, (until the invention of Internet maybe.) From then on nobody could dictate rules and oppress people without facing resistance, because, as they learnt how to read and write, people started to form their own opinions and learnt how to defend themselves. No doubt that industrial revolution-that led to the age of prosperity in the West- would have never been possible without Johannes Gutenberg and his ingenious invention.

Now, think about that: today 785 million people, age 15 and up, across the globe do not know how to read or write, 2/3 of them are girls (The UN). What it means is that, despite all the progress that humanity has achieved, these people are still trapped in the cycle of poverty and are deprived of tools for changing their lives. The reason is that education is empowerment, especially for uneducated girls who have no voice or rights in their communities. A typical life of such girl consists of getting married in early teens, doing house work, getting beaten and oppressed by her husband and his family and having babies, 2, 3, 4, 7...until she dies during childbirth or from an "honor killing" or from being killed simply because she cannot bear a son. In developing countries male children are traditionally given special treatment: they are the ones who are taken to a doctor when they are sick, they are the ones sent to school, while girls lack all these "privileges."
At the same time, investment in girls' education has been proven to be the most effective tool in achieving higher standards of living and economic development in general. The World Bank affirms that "there is no investment more effective for achieving development goals than educating girls." One African proverb says:

"You educate a boy, and you educate and individual. You educate a girl, and you're educating an entire village."

Why is that so? The fact is that educated and empowered girls for the first time in their lives have the door of opportunities open in front of them. After they learn that there is more to life than just cooking, cleaning, and having babies and that they can actually change their lives, they often do so. One of the main outcomes is, of course, that girls have fewer babies and at an older age and do not force their daughters into early marriages. This makes girls' education THE most effective solution to the problem of overpopulation. Yet, most importantly, if a woman is able to get a job or start her own small business, she invests 90% of her income into her household, while men- only 30%-40% (The State of the World’s Girls, UN Girls’ Education Initiative, 2009). Consequently, children of such empowered women are regularly taken to a doctor, are well fed, and are able to attend school. That certainly brings change upon whole communities.

What I am driving at here is that if you are debating what cause to choose and donate your money to, make it girls' education. Of course, it is not a panacea, but it is undoubtedly the key to solving the problems of developing world. Just think about China and The Four Asian Tigers, who achieved their staggering growth ratings with education and inclusion of women into their workforce (among other things). Now think about how things would change in Africa, South America, and Asia if all the girls (and boys, of course) were educated. That's right, this new revolution is deemed to bring the long-awaited change to the developing world. It's up to us to help make it happen.

See the list of NGOs working on girls' education in my next post.
If you want to learn more on the subject read "Half The Sky" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and join the movement at


  1. I agree wholeheartedly, that educating females is the key to stopping oppression of women. It is a cause we should all (esp us as women) support! Girls account for 60% of out-of-school children in the whole world, and also make up 70% of the world's poor! The most important aspect is, that in improving education rates for females, it will lead to bettering other causes that are a direct correlation to these statistics! One prime example... research shows that educating women & girls helps contain the spread of HIV & AIDS.

    Thank you for this piece! In fact, me and my younger sister have decided to take on a new cause, something to dedicate our free time to as far as volunteering.. of course there are numerous we could think of, but we wanted something that really drew our interest in.. this sure came as a sign! If only we could travel to one of the countries in need, but, i'm sure we can find a way locally to help support this cause. If you have any specific suggestions, i'd love to hear! :)

  2. I am very happy that my piece made you choose this cause, Elizabeth!!! The best thing you can do is to read "Half The Sky"- it really explores the women's issues in depth and has a list of many NGOs working on the cause, most importantly it evaluates various aid projects by their effectiveness, so you can choose the ones that really make a difference on the ground.

    As promised I will make up a list of such nonprofits in my next post, because there are plenty of them working in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa, and even based in the USA that are trying to create awareness of the problem. I think creating the awareness is something that we can do locally, for example hosting an event in support of the cause or something like that, because the more people know of the problem, the more international attention and donors' money the cause gets.

  3. Thank you for this gentle reminder of the little ones who are not as fortunate as many of us to have an opportunity to learn and go to school. Education is something that as I grow I am more thankful to have and glad that I listened to my parents when they pushed me to study. As a future professional the best accomplishment would definitely be to give back to the children whose parents cannot provide them with the sufficient tools for learning. As a member of nonprofit organizations at this point of my life I would love to start taking small steps to making a difference in the life of girls and boys around the world.

  4. You're welcome, Katherine, and you're right that small steps do actually make a difference, because they engage more and more people and can turn into a whole new movement.

  5. Excellent piece and I couldn't agree more! Half the Sky is a book that certainly changed my outlook on life. Actually inspired me to write my own blog post just today. :) (

    I would also add that Greg Mortenson's books (Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools) are equally inspiring.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. Who took the photo above? I love the image.

  7. Andrew, Three Cups of Tea is the next one on my list :) I will make sure to check your blog!

    Amity, I don't know who took the picture, found it somewhere on google.