It is like a thin thread woven into a piece of fabric – the way a certain issue keeps on reappearing in one’s life. You never consciously look for it, but the next thing you know, there it is again...
This thing keeps on appearing in my life, always on the edge, never really intruding into my daily comings-and-goings, and oh so easy to ignore, to put it off as ‘not really my problem’ and ‘I’m too busy to get involved’.
It has crossed my path again yesterday, and all it asked from me is to write about it. Surely I can do that. It is what I do, after all. So this is my small contribution:
Today, more than 600 million girls live in the developing world. Approximately one-quarter of these girls are not in school.
Adolescent girls are uniquely capable of raising the standard of living in the developing world. It has been shown: she will reinvest her income and knowledge back into her family and her community. As an educated mother, an active citizen, an ambitious entrepreneur or prepared employee, a girl will break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
That is the Girl Effect.
Yet, despite her proven potential, she is more likely to be uneducated, a child bride, and exposed to HIV/AIDS. Less than two cents of every international development dollar is directed at her.
A few years ago it came into my heart to visit Afghanistan. I had just read the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and I told my husband that if I ever get the chance to visit Afghanistan, I am going to grab it with both hands. Not long afterwards a friend told me about an outreach programme inviting people to visit Afghanistan to witness their projects first hand. And off I went. I visited Kabul, travelled by road to Mazar I Sharif and further north to the border with Tajikistan. I saw schools being built, children being educated and women being trained in entrepreneurship. It was an eye opener.
Since then everything about Central Asia caught my interest. I read Greg Mortenson’s books Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools. Through his organization Central Asia Institute (CAI), he has built many schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is passionate about providing education for all children but especially girls. Here is an extract from his last book explaining how educating girls can transform a society:
Girls’ education leads to increased income for the girls themselves and for nations as a whole. Increasing the share of women with a secondary education by 1 percent boosts annual per-capita income growth by 0.3 percent. That’s significant, since per-capita income gains in developing countries seldom exceed 3 percent per year. Educating girls also boosts farming productivity. Educated farmers are more efficient and their farms are more productive, which leads to increase crop yields and declines in malnutrition.
Maternal and Children’s Health:
Educated women have smaller, healthier and better-educated families. The better educated the women in society, the lower the fertility rate. A 2000 study in Brazil found that literate women had an average of 2.5 children while illiterate women had and average of six children. The better educated the women, the lower the infant mortality rate. “The mother’s education is often the single most important influence on children’s survival...Educated mothers learn how to keep their children healthy and how to use health services, improve nutrition and sanitation, and take advantage of their own increased earning capability. Girls who stay in school also marry later, when they are better able to bear and care for children.” By increasing health-care knowledge and reducing the number of pregnancies, female education significantly reduces the risk of maternal mortality. Educated women are more likely to insist on education for their own children, especially their daughters. Their children study as much as two hours more each day than children of illiterate mothers and stay in school longer.
Educated girls and women are more likely to stand up for themselves and resist violence. “In poor areas where women are isolated within their communities, have little education and cannot earn much, girls are often regarded as an economic burden and women and girls sometimes suffer deliberate neglect or outright harm.” Educated women channel more of their resources to the health and education of their children than men do. Educated women are more likely to participate in political discussions, meetings and decision making. Studies show that education promotes more representative, effective government. As women are educated and approach parity with men, research shows that “governments and other institutions function better and with less corruption.” Girls who become literate tend to teach their mothers how to read and write, much more than do males.
Closer to home, in 2007, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, launched a fundraising campaign called Dubai Cares. It is based on the belief that education is the most effective tool to break the cycle of poverty. Dubai Cares is an organization dedicated to improving children’s access to quality primary education in developing countries. Dubai Cares works in countries with chronic deficiencies in primary education where it implements development programs that target the underlying causes preventing children from accessing quality primary education. Dubai Cares’ vision is a world in which all children can go to school.
Both these initiatives (CAI and Dubai Cares) were launched by men. Men with a vision for a better world. A world where women count and are respected as equal members of society. It is ironic that both these initiatives were born in the part of the world where girls and women in general, are perceived as second rate citizens. And where men are perceived as (and in many cases are) the oppressors.
I’ve known about the Girl Effect movement for a while now. I ‘liked’ them on Facebook and get their updates on my wall every now and again. I am inspired by these girls who fight the odds to improve their own lives and then go back to help those around them. And then I forget about it again and I carry on with my own busy life...
Yesterday I came across the blog of Tara Sophia Mohr called Wise Living. I don’t know how I got there – I’ve never read heard of her or read her blog before... She started a 2011 Girl Effect BloggingCampaign. And there it was – an invitation to get involved. And here I am – getting involved. Please join me. If you blog, join the blogging campaign. If you have a Facebook profile, post about the Girl Effect on your wall. Look at their website, they have great ideas for everybody to get involved, spread the word and help a girl. Or two.