Tuesday, 3 January 2012


Education for Women::The Ripple Effect
 “Schools don’t just build lives, they save lives. It is a test we cannot afford to fail.” These were the words of Queen Rania of Jordan when the ‘Education for All’ campaign was launched in 2008.

Education is undeniably a critical factor in development, not only of an individual but also of a whole community and nation. Educating girls in particular can have a rippling effect on the lives of women and world development. Not only is investing in girls' education an effective way to reduce poverty, it also enables women to have a voice in society and stand up for their rights.

An educated mother for instance can have a far greater influence in household decisions and can give better opportunities for her to secure a better future for her children. She is more likely to be employed, allowing her to pay some of the costs of schooling, and may be more aware of the benefits of an education. An educated mother with fewer children can focus more attention on each child. And because she has fewer children, she is more likely to have control over the spacing of her children.

Statistics show that female education has significantly increased over the years. In Afghanistan, Oxfam reported that as of as of September 2011, there were 2.7 million Afghan girls enrolled in school, compared to just 5,000 in 2001 – a 480-fold increase. While the numbers are encouraging, Afghan girls, like many others in Asian countries where males are regarded as the superior sex, still face many barriers to receiving an education. These include the variable quality of education, poor school conditions, and nearly half a million girls who are enrolled but don’t attend school regularly. Why? Because boys and girls are treated differently. So when financial limitations force parents to decide who goes to school, the boys go to school and the girls end up staying home to help in the household chores.

In a UNESCO study on Women, Education and Empowerment, advocates of education for empowerment argued that education needs to go beyond mere "enabling."  This statement supports what has been going on in most societies where males are favoured over females. Though the population of educated women has significantly increased over the years, the fact is that acceptance of women as active members of society and equals of men is a major factor in women being able to establish themselves as major players and decision-makers in society.

The study further pointed out that self-reliance and competence in staying self-sufficient are conditions that can “emancipate” women from being “discriminated and marginalized” members of society. A reflection of this is the success story of Kalpana Saroj from India. Kalpana is the daughter of a *Dalit policeman in Vidarbha’s Akola district. She was married off at age 12 to a 22-year old man and went back to her parents months after her marriage to escape her abusive in-laws. Her years of struggle to gain an education and achieve success for herself paid off. 

She now manages a construction, steel, sugar and brass-tubes manufacture business. The “change of heart” of some upper class in India’s society on how they view Dalit women like Kalpana who have achieved financial success clearly shows how, with education and wealth, women can have a significant measure of social acceptance. Her complete success story can be read at the Entreprenuer Success Stories blog. 

However, despite the increase in the population of educated females, Oxfam statistics point to the fact that basic education in poor countries is in crisis and the main reason is poverty. There are still:

• 72 million children out of school (over two-thirds are girls)
• 771 million adults worldwide are illiterate (64 per cent are women)
• Two million new teachers are needed today to provide kids with a decent education – and 15 million will be needed by 2015 to achieve education for all

Poverty and inequality only worsen when girls miss school, whatever the reason. And there is no question that closing the gender gap in education will have a rippling effect on population, health and world development. The struggle to achieve this continues...but we are definitely getting there.

* A Dalit is considered an Untouchable in India’s Caste system. Though now considered illegal, this is still practiced in wide areas in India.

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