A young woman named MalalaYousafzai has recently become famous for her passion for women’s education. This is because it is a passion that survived the spread of the anti-education Taliban regime in her home region, and an attempt on her life that very nearly succeeded. Since she survived a gunshot wound she received from the Taliban, Malala has only made the education of women more important and the need for it has been more greatly emphasized in every venue. She has spoken at the UN and been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 16.
When Malala gave her speech at the UN, this is how she described the battle over education:
“The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than sword” was true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women.”
Extremism is one impediment to education. There are others: child marriage, conflict, poverty, and lack of materials. While reading an essay regarding race and culture in literature, by a blogger from India, the author made an astounding statement that ought to knock a few of us out of our seats:
“The books available in one fourth grade classroom at a low-income Minneapolis charter school where I have worked outnumber the entirety of books my private primary school in Delhi made available to me (And I reiterate, I am nothing but privileged in India).”
Malala Yousafzai is from Pakistan, where just over half of the country’s adult population is literate, while just under 71% of the youth bracket can read. Only 29% of girls moved on to secondary education according to 2011 statistics. In most developing countries, female literacy rates lag behind male literacy rates—both are often below what is desirable. Some gaps between male and female literacy are minor, such as in Iraq where the disparity is only 4%. Some are drastic, as in Senegal where female literacy is almost 20% less in the youth bracket.
The impact of improved education for women—and for everyone—can be dramatic:
“A recent study of 19 developing countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, concluded that a country’s long-term economic growth increases by 3.7 percent for every year the adult population’s average level of schooling rises.”
Women’s education in particular has a stark statistical correlation to decreased infant mortality rates, and curbed population growth. Girls with education are also significantly less likely to contract HIV. In fact, the influence of education is so strong against the spread of HIV, that it is even referred to as a “social vaccine.”
The good thing is that in many countries there are signs of improvement, and there are many individuals—such as Malala—and organizations which are dedicated to the work of improving women’s education in these countries, and in so doing, improving their countries in a wide variety of ways.
Many in the West take education for granted. When we take a look at what many have to go through just to get a basic education, those who have such easy access to basic and higher education should count their blessings and, hopefully, ask themselves: what can be done to help girls in regions like Malala’s to promote widespread, good education?
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