Empowering girls through education

Education empowers women and girls in ways that lead to a positive impact in not just their own lives but those of their families, and their communities.

Girls at a financial literacy course, Indonesia (Photo: Sense for Money)

Girls at a financial literacy course, Indonesia (Photo: Sense for Money)

Educated girls are more likely to grow up to have the skills, information and confidence to participate in decision-making that affects their lives, and to increase their earning power. The socio-economic benefits to educating girls are enormous including, among others, decreasing inter-generational poverty, raising healthier and better-educated children, improving economic productivity, having smaller families, and enhanced knowledge of health risks such as HIV/AIDS transmission. (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative).

Educating girls can:

Decrease malnutrition and ill health in children – when a mother is educated, she is likely to know more about health and hygiene practices, and to ensure that her children receive the nutrients needed to keep them healthy.

Reduce child marriage and early childbirth – girls who have higher levels of education are less likely to marry at an early age, less likely to have children at an early age, and more likely to have fewer children, which has an important demographic impact on slowing population growth and mortality globally.

In India, one study found that education among girls was a consistent predictor of marriage age—the lower the education level, the lower the marriage age. Less than 30 per cent of highly educated women married before age 18, compared to 77 per cent of uneducated women. Girls who were educated were also more articulate and able to negotiate with their parents to delay marriage. (International Centre for Research on Women, 2011, Delaying marriage for girls in India: Report to UNICEF)

Increase the likelihood that they will send their children to school – children of uneducated mothers are half as likely to attend school as those whose mothers themselves attended primary school (UNICEF).

Help them make better decisions about their sexual and reproductive health – Girls who are educated tend to have better knowledge about and concern for their sexual and reproductive health. This can significantly reduce their vulnerability to sexually-transmitted infections; unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions; and high-risk behavior that could lead to exploitation and violence.

Increase awareness of their rights, and help them challenge harmful cultural practices (such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage) and resist gender stereotyping, abuse and discrimination – numerous studies have shown that education empowers girls and women to fight back against gender inequalities that lead to discrimination and violence.

For example, a recent study of Kenyan Maasai schoolgirls, found that girls used their identities as ‘schoolgirls’ as a way to challenge gendered expectations about FGM, early marriage and family. (Switzer, H., cited in Action Aid, 2011, Stop Violence Against Girls: A cross-country analysis of baseline research from Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique). Another study describes how in Uganda, a young women’s group presented a special request to their community—to challenge the abuse of older men which made them afraid to walk to and from school. “One schoolgirl on her own would find it almost impossible to raise the issue but the group request had a dramatic effect in eliminating such abuse.” (Renton L, et al, 2000, Safe Crossing: The Stepping Stones approach to involving men in the prevention of violence and HIV transmission, London, Action Aid, cited in Panos Institute, 2003. Beyond villains and victims : Addressing sexual violence in the education sector).

Increase economic growth and productivity – A 1999 World Bank study of 100 countries showed that a 1% increase in the secondary education of girls resulted in a boost in the annual per capita income of a country by 0.3%, a substantial increase for many developing countries. Further, a 2011 study revealed that investing in girls so that they would complete the next level of education would lead to lifetime earnings of today’s cohort of girls equivalent to up to 68% of annual GDP. (Chaaban & Cunningham, 2011, Measuring the Economic Gain of Investing in Girls)