Educating Girls—Empowering Women

By Saima Zaman

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Educating girls gives them the freedom to make decisions to improve their lives, which has deep social implications. The UN’s sustainable development goals call for gender equality and a quality education for all by 2030. If we do not address systemic discrimination, we will perpetuate a cycle of patriarchy that inhibits girls and undermines human rights and inequality.
Breaking patriarchal structures and enabling girls to go to school multiplies their economic choices, and increases their voice and influence in society. Education is the key to changing this situation. Not just education in the developing world but in the developed world as well. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.
Educating girls and women is especially effective because when we educate them, the benefits are felt throughout the whole community. An educated woman is better able to educate her own children who, in turn, will be more likely to receive school education themselves. An educated woman’s household is more likely to prosper as a result of a higher overall income. It is an attractive proposition: invest in women and girls, and the benefits flow not only to them but everyone around them, too.
Sadly, the reverse is also true. Deny girls and women education and the whole community suffers, not just them as individuals. Improving girls’ access to education has been on the mainstream development agenda for some time, largely because of the poverty reduction potential that education offers through increasing access to economic opportunity. The long-term positive effects of education for the individual, family and wider society have also been recognised. In addition, education is often seen as one of the main pathways to achieving another key development goal: girls’ and women’s empowerment. Empowering adolescent girls with education is seen, rightly, as a prerequisite to development and growth. Put a girl through school and she is less likely to marry early and have children before she is ready. Economically, that means healthier, more productive families and greater earnings potential. A key obstacle to girls participating in school life is child marriage. The reasons for child marriage and a lack of education for girls are complex and interlinked. Building a positive self image for girls needs to be woven into the fabric of education. Many girls suffer from self esteem and confidence problems and need a supportive and engaging community to develop these essential traits. Strategies to promote self awareness and effectiveness should also be promoted. It is also important that students, particularly girls, are exposed to accomplished female role models on an ongoing basis.
While successful women in the public and political arena are great examples to inspire students, there are also examples closer to home. Female empowerment all goes back to creating a school environment that allows girls to be themselves, feel comfortable to fail and learn from mistakes. While academic accomplishment is vital, schools have a role to nurture students so they can become well-rounded and compassionate individuals.
A fundamental reason we have not yet achieved gender equality in every realm is that women and girls’ voices are too often excluded from global and national decision making. There has been much progress in increasing access to education, but progress has been slow in improving the gender sensitivity of the education system, including ensuring textbooks promote positive stereotypes. Education is not a privilege of the rich and well to do; it is the inalienable right of every child. The state must discharge its responsibility as guarantor and regulator of education as a fundamental human entitlement and as a public cause. The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states but also a moral imperative. Educate your girls to attain a developed society and culture. Start it from home. There can be someone somewhere who will emulate your practice.

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