Tag Archives: education

Two Nobel Prizes, 65 Million Girls Absent from School

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize, shared by deserving recipients Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, shines important light on the children of impoverished countries. Through their work on behalf of children’s rights we are reminded of the urgency of now when it comes to girls’ education and to child exploitation for financial gain.

Significantly, the award came as the United Nations marked the International Day of the Girl Child, a day to promote girls’ human rights and to highlight gender inequalities that still lead to various forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by a huge number of the world’s girls. That is not to diminish the painful lives boys lead in many corners of the world. But the issue of girls’ education that Malala speaks to is so critical to a country, a community, a family, a girl, a woman, and her own children that it deserves the special attention a 17-year old activist – the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize – has brought to light.

“Extremists have shown what frightens them most,” Malala has said. “It’ a girl with a book.” She is hardly exaggerating. Just think how ISIS and the Taliban and Boka Haram confine females to sexual slavery by way of faux marriages.

Sadly, history is replete with unnamed multitudes of women denied an education. In medieval times, for instance, women who were unmarriageable or considered unruly were shunted off to convents. But there they found a haven free from subservience and perpetual childbearing, a place where they could read, write, discuss ideas – until the men in power realized how dangerous that was, and banned them from such activities in favor of religious devotion and endless embroidery.

Yet, here’s what we know about the value of girls’ education: It is central to a country’s development and improvement. It leads the way out of poverty. And it has a direct, proven impact on child and reproductive health, economic growth, environmental sustainability, national productivity, innovation, democratic values, and social cohesion.

In the World Bank’s new report, Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity, key findings include that “girls with little or no education are far more likely to be married [off] as children, suffer domestic violence, live in poverty, and lack a say over household spending or their own healthcare than better-educated peers; and enhanced education – the ability to make decisions and act on them – is a key reason why children of better educated women are less likely to be stunted; educated mothers have greater autonomy in making decisions and more power to act for their children’s benefit.”

We know that illiteracy is one of the strongest predictors of poverty and that every year of schooling increases individual wages for both men and women. We know that an educated, skilled workforce is one of the foundations of a knowledge-based society and that education makes vital contributions to lowering maternal and child mortality rates, protecting against HIV/AIDS, reducing fertility rates, and enhancing environmental awareness.

But let’s put a human face on this, as CAMFED, a UK-based non-profit organization dedicated to girls’ education, has. Suppose you’re a 12-year old girl, they suggest. You went to primary school, loved learning, and enjoyed interacting with your classmates. But you couldn’t go to secondary school because your family didn’t have the money for school fees, uniforms, or transport. Perhaps they thought it wasn’t safe. Or that your labor was needed at home. You therefore became a financial burden on your family and had to work to contribute money to the household. Young, lonely and sad, you are likely to have a baby before you are 15 or 16, maybe three children by the age of 20. You are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than your former classmates and your children are more likely to be malnourished than women who waited to have families. You have no power – no agency to make decisions – no say whatsoever over your life. And all you wanted to do was stay in school.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are 24 million girls like that one. Overall in the world, there are 65 million girls who are not in school.

In poor countries, 60 percent of the present population is under 25 years of age. Without children’s rights, including access to education, how are we going to realize global peace and development? In conflict-ridden areas – proliferating at a staggering rate – how will we stop the violation of children and the continued violence that occurs from one generation to the next?

Thank Heaven for a new generation of young women, and men, symbolized by Malala Yousafzai. “I know I am not alone,” she told reporters on learning of her prize. “I think this is really the beginning. This decision sends a message that all people, regardless of language and religion, should fight for the rights of women, children and every human being.”

That includes policymakers and politicians as well as parents. Would that they had the will to join her quest.

Notes from the Field: A Development Project that Actually Works

After twenty years working in international development – a career I relinquished when I realized that taxpayers’ money was largely being spent on failed or redundant projects in countries so corrupt that taxpayers should be outraged – it came as an encouraging surprise to learn of a program that has made a real difference.

The International Fellowships Program (IFP) funded by the Ford Foundation in 2001 has demonstrated that an international scholarship program can help build leadership for social justice, thereby contributing to broader social change at local and national levels. Since its inception, the program has enabled more than 4,300 talented leaders from various parts of the world to pursue advanced degrees at more than 600 universities in nearly 50 countries. The groundbreaking work of IFP enabled its Fellows, who because of ethnicity, geography, gender or physical disability are marginalized in their communities, to bring new knowledge and skills back home. And by removing traditional barriers to educational opportunities such as restrictions on age or fields of study, IFP has opened the door to advanced education for change makers in 22 countries worldwide.
(Today approximately 82 percent of IFP Fellows work in their home countries.)

Some of IFP’s alumni now promote eco-tourism and conservation in China, develop drama therapy programs for youth in Tanzania, prevent early marriage and promote education for girls in Kenya, and advocate for the rights of disabled people in Vietnam, among thousands of other contributions. Vo Thi Hoang Yen is one of them. Having contracted polio as a young child, she “wanted to change the perception that people with disabilities were incapable, helpless and only a burden on society, but I did not know how,” she recalls. “Then IFP came along, bringing me a great opportunity to study abroad, expand my knowledge and realize my dream.” Armed with a master’s degree in community development from the University of Kansas, Yen returned home after completing her graduate studies and founded the Disability Research and Capacity Development Center in Ho Chi Minh City, a groundbreaking NGO and civil society initiative that now plays a national role in shaping disability law and policies in Vietnam.

I learned about IFP because my daughter works there. But the inspiration for this remarkable program came from its founder and executive director Dr. Joan Dassin, 2011 recipient of the Marita Houlihan Prize for Distinguished Contributions to the Field of International Education, and a former Ford Foundation regional director for Latin America. “IFP has conclusively demonstrated that people with direct experience of the problems they want to solve are strongly motivated to improve conditions in the places where they live and work,” she says. “Expanding educational opportunities in a targeted way to the neediest communities has a direct impact on development.”

IFP’s proven model is now being replicated by governments and international agencies in a number of countries, with particular success throughout Latin America. Across the board, IFP alumni are being elected to public office, many hold leadership positions in NGOs and international organizations, and about 40 percent of them are leading changes being made in basic, secondary and higher education.

Contrast the IFP story with the experience of a friend serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in an African country rife with NGOs and bilateral aid agencies. A nurse, my friend sends stories of life there; her reports of moral lassitude and financial corruption abound.

“Whites put on an air of being super-busy, but they are often just recuperating from hangovers, dozing on Valium or paralyzed by depression. [My counterpart] said I can’t help her with the office work, mainly to gather statistics on how many of which vaccines were given or how many pregnant women tested HIV positive and received treatment because I do not know how to inflate the numbers. The results are what WHO, UNICEF, UNAIDS, PEPFAR and all the others use to explain to the public their ever growing need for funding.

My friend, having decided that if she can’t be part of the solution she is not going to contribute to the problem, is leaving Peace Corps earlier than planned. That, in my book, is a terrible waste of a good nurse and a heartrending commentary on the state of international “development.”

In contrast, IFP’s measures of success stand up to any development criteria. So, too, do the relevant words of James Kityo, an IFP Fellow from Uganda who earned his master’s degree in health management planning and policy at the University of Leeds in England: “Whenever I see a problem, I start imagining how that problem can become a solution.”