It has been said that educating a woman benefits not just her and her family, but also those beyond her immediate circle. In this modern world, access to education can make all the difference in improving the economic status of a village or even an entire province. Unfortunately, the recent advance of a more conservative line of thinking around the world threatens the progress already made and puts future gains in doubt. This development undermines the very foundation of society – fully half of the globe is not allowed to function on an equal level with the other half, merely because of their gender.
While this may seem a non-issue in many developed countries, the reality is that even in those nations women do not receive equal education or job opportunities, and rarely receive equal pay. Women in developing and impoverished countries fare much worse, often having limited or no access at all to any schooling. While there are many complicated sociological reasons for this dearth of education, it remains true that obtaining an education is the single biggest factor in improving the lives of women – and, by extension, their families.
An educated woman is better able to contribute to supporting her family, but that’s not the only benefit. She, in turn, is more likely to marry later and have fewer children, easing up the pressure on population growth and ensuring more available resources. The mortality rate of her children is half that of an uneducated woman. Rates of HIV are lower in women who can read and even lower in those who’ve completed secondary school. Countries, where more women complete a secondary education, have higher per capita incomes, and the need for teachers and health care workers is less because there are more qualified candidates.
To their families, though, educating girls comes at a cost. Girls shoulder a disproportionate share of chores and family responsibilities, from farming to watching children. Losing that help can have a significant impact on a family living in poverty. The schools that successfully enrol and keep girls are the ones that are convenient for the family because they are close and have hours that work for the community. They also educate the families on the economic benefits of a girl’s education.
When a girl goes to school, it sets in motion a cascade of advantages for the student, her family, her village, her country, and some might argue the entire world. Providing a better foundation for one-half of the world’s population will only lead to better opportunities for all. There are challenges to overcome, but they are not insurmountable. Opening up a dialogue about girls’ education can facilitate elemental changes in the way that girls across the world are viewed. A girl is a critical, indispensable part of the world’s development, and needs to be valued not just for her ability to bear children or perform chores, but her ability to work and contribute to economic growth.