Society / Transforming the world with female education

When Plato founded his Academy in 387 BC in Athens, only two women were reported to have had the privilege of attending his classes. The institution’s main goal was to instruct men on how to become great orators and politicians. No wonder women represent a minority in politics nowadays if this is what the origins of education reveal to us. Today, 130 million girls, aged 6 to 17, are not in school, according to the UNESCO. Poverty, child marriage, physical and sexual violence and cultural norms are the main reasons for this lack of female access to education. Indeed, most schools around the world are not free and in 2017 41,000 female minors were getting married every day. In the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, article 28 says: “States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular: Make primary education compulsory and available free to all.” Organisations like the UN, whose Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030”, and activists, such as Malala Yousafzai, are eagerly fighting for this right. Nevertheless, equal access to education for girls and boys has not been achieved and remains a source of inequality in the world.

Photo credits: UNICEF website: https://www.unicef.org/education/girls-education

A massive impact on global demography

If every single girl in the world were educated, global demography would take a hit, starting with a significant decrease in global mortality. One in four women living today was married when she was a child and in many African countries (Nigeria, Chad, South Sudan…) the maternal mortality rate can reach more than 700 per 100,000 births. If girls are educated during their entire childhood, the number of teenagers bearing children will drastically decline. Consequently, there will be less deaths due to unhealthy pregnancies or untreated childbirths. In addition, less women will acquire AIDS and the latter will stop spreading. It has been shown that 5000 girls and young women become infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) every week because they were married under the age of 18.

Likewise, the birth rate will also decrease if girls have access to school. Child marriage and overpopulation will be lowered in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which are the areas where most girls are not sent to school. Moreover, children will also benefit from women being educated, by receiving a better life and the child mortality rate will decrease. Indeed, in Africa, 14% of deaths of children under the age of five are due to preterm births; in Asia, it represents 21.5% of children deaths and in Latin America it represents 19.6%. In fact, it is in these areas that pregnancy and birth are not well treated. AIDS, HIV and malnutrition are also major causes for infant deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The gateway to female independence

Access to education for girls promotes their emancipation, offers them more choices and allows them to decide their purpose in life. Education opens a huge range of doors for everyone and grants each person the choice of their future job and life. Moreover, it increases female labour participation, especially in politics, science, engineering and in the technology industry. In October 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl, was shot in the head by the Taliban because she was openly fighting for girls’ education. This is a perfect example which demonstrates that education is a right being refused and violently taken away in some countries. Today, the Malala Fund is very active in countries where most girls are deprived from school, and in 2014, it successfully contributed to the creation of an all-girls school in rural Kenya.

In poor and patriarchal societies, girls are considered a burden to the family and solely useful for householding; hence, parents do not deem it worthy to send their daughters to school. They use them as exchangeable commodities and only long for them to marry, which will lift a “weight” off their shoulders. On the contrary, I am convinced that if girls have the opportunity to be educated and to have a decent job, they can bring back money for their family. It is then vital to change people’s mentalities to promote women’s freedom. As a matter of fact, in some countries, parents do have a different mindset and different goals for their children. While travelling in Vietnam in 2016, my mother spoke to a maid in a town called Hoi An. The latter told her that she was hiring a teacher so that her children could learn English. The moral of the story is that even though some people are poor, they still do everything in their power to provide their children with a proper education.

Photo credits: Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/363384263675957594/

Furthermore, an increase in the number of girls attending school will lead to a decrease in gender discrimination. Like said earlier, female labour participation will rise, and stereotypes will disappear. The world will see that women can do exactly the same jobs as men and should not be treated as weak, unintelligent and useless. Since the Antiquity, the world has been ruled by men and the common view has been that women are inferior and unequal to men. Our project is to change men and women’s minds, because yes even some women are involuntary perpetrators of their own demeaning. In fact, they have already changed in some places, such as Scandinavia. In this region, gender equality and “universal access to education” are the main goals of the governments. Likewise, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala Yousafzai’s father, is a brilliant and admirable leader in the fight for girls’ education. He is the one who supports and encourages the most his daughter in her fight for girls’ education, has never kept her from going to school and has himself founded a school for girls and boys in Pakistan. If this man was able to open his eyes, look around him and notice the injustice that is going on and become an advocate for equal access to education between girls and boys, others can and must too.

The economics in all of this

This article would not be complete if I did not bring up the economic impact of female education. On a national level, making education mandatory for everyone will create new schools, which will need teachers. Therefore, more jobs will be created, especially in poor and developing countries. The Malala Fund has been recruiting female teachers in Afghanistan, while the UNESCO has put into place a teacher training program in sub-Saharan Africa in order to improve teaching quality and increase the supply of qualified teachers. Besides, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) will also benefit from an increase in the number of women working in this country. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the absence of female education causes a tremendous loss of economic output, ranging from 10% of GDP in developed economies to 30% of GDP in the poorest countries. On a global level, economic growth will accelerate as more and more people will participate in the labour force and contribute to the world’s economy. New minds give birth to new ideas and the skills brought by women in the labour force are also a boon for men, as overall productivity and wages increase. By joining the workforce, women contribute to the improvement of the standard of living in poor countries and can afford a decent education for their children, thus offering them a better life in the long-term. More education means better job options and higher wages for women.

Universal access to education is a fundamental right today which has been and is still unjustly forbidden in certain countries by an essentially patriarchal society. Not only does female education significantly alter global demography, by decreasing the birth and mortality rates, and undoubtedly amplify economic growth, but it also changes millions of girls’ existences by giving them precious and unique opportunities. While progress has been made to address the issue of gender inequality in education, a lot more work needs to be done and all governments and societies need to intercede for this cause. We must keep on fighting for women’s rights and prove to people that women are men’s equal and should not be undermined. After all, what is the harm in having more educated people in the world?

Bibliography:

  • Boudon, B. L’Académie de Platon, Sagesse d’Orient et d’Occident. Available at: http://www.sagesse-marseille.com/lhomme-sage/philosophie-dans-la-vie/ecoles-de-philosophie-antiques/lacademie-de-platon.html

  • The Women’s Atlas, Joni Seager

  • United Nations (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Human Rights. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx

  • Yousafzai, M (2018) Girls Can Change the World – But We Have to Invest in Them First, Time Magazine. Available at :https://time.com/5087352/malala-yousafzai-girls-can-change-the-world/

  • UNESCO, Enhancing teacher education in Africa. Available at: https://en.unesco.org/themes/teachers/cfit-teachers

  • (2017) Girls’ Education, World Bank. Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/girlseducation

  • Lund Andersen, C (2019) Equality for All, IMF. Available at: https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2019/03/pdf/fd0319.pdf

  • Sperling, G. Winthrop, R. Kwauk, C (2016) What Works in Girls’ Education, Brookings Institution Press. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/What-Works-in-Girls-Educationlowres.pdf

  • Sustainable Development Goal 4, United Nations. Available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg4

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