The Girl Effect: Three Reasons We Should All Care About Educating Girls
How educating girls changes everything, and why I’ll be walking on May 30th.
Social Sustainability Starts with Education
On my journey to become a more sustainable person, I’ve been trying to educate myself on the myriad complex dimensions of sustainability. And I’ve realized that education itself – in the broadest sense – is one of the underlying solutions. The more each of us knows about the challenges we’re facing, the better equipped we’ll be to address them.
In terms of social sustainability – ensuring that all citizens have access to food, shelter, clean water and the means to make a decent living – there’s ample evidence that education provides a catalyst that can lift millions out of poverty.
… books, notebooks and pencils – the tools of socioeconomic well-being*
The Girl Effect
The Girl Effect is a term I first discovered on the Central Asia Institute Web site (an organization founded by Greg Mortenson). This is where I learned that, while access to education in general is important, ensuring that GIRLS are educated is a “force multiplier” for driving positive change. In fact … No other factor even comes close to matching the cascade of positive changes triggered by teaching a single girl how to reach and write.*
Here is why I think all of us should care …
Sustainable population growth:
- The education of girls leads to smaller family sizes. Girls marry later and have fewer children, which leads to lower (more sustainable) population growth.
- Education leads to better female and child healthcare and lower mortality rates, which in turn reinforces the smaller family size.
- Educated women have higher economic value (i.e. they can earn money), and are therefore generally treated better. They have more of a voice in family concerns, such as family size and healthcare.
- The three points above are important, not just for those in the developing countries, but for the entire world in terms of personal security.
- As I found out, where female mortality rates are high, population “bubbles” can form – meaning that there are fewer women than men in a given age group. When there is an overabundance of young men living in conditions of poverty, their energies tend towards violence and terrorism instead of marriage and family.
- Furthermore, women tend to discourage their sons from engaging in violence, and if women are respected in the community, their influence is stronger.
- In the words of Greg Mortenson, “If you teach a boy, you educate an individual. But if you teach a girl, you educate a community.” An educated boy tends to leave the community and/or use the increased earning power for more “selfish” purposes (sorry gents). On the other hand, an educated girl tends to stay, spend her money on family/children, and become a catalyst for positive change.
May 30th, 2010: World Partnership Walk
This year, a colleague has invited me to participate in the World Partnership Walk on May 30th in Toronto. The World Partnership Walk, in support of the Aga Khan Foundation, is Canada’s largest annual event dedicated to increasing awareness and raising funds to fight global poverty. (Please check the site for dates in other Canadian cities). When I found out that the walk supports education for girls and women, I was eager to participate.
According to Save The Children, two-thirds of the world’s 880 million illiterate adults are women. Girls are more than 70 percent of the 125 million children who don’t have a school to attend.
That’s why I’ve written this post, and that’s why I’ll be walking on May 30th. Thanks for reading!
* From the book Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson
Most of the information in this post, comes from two wonderful books: Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson (a sequel to his excellent Three Cups of Tea), and Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I hope they will forgive this loose attribution, knowing that we share the goal of spreading the word.