THE EDUCATIONAL EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN

October 22, 2014 OPINION/NEWS

woman_empowerment

 

By

Anant Mishra

Education is a fundamental human right and a crucial part of any strategy to improve the well being and quality of life of societies. The importance of education in functioning as workers, citizens and fulfilled members of societies is increasing but tremendous barriers to education remain.

One of the most entrenched, and paradoxically most resolvable, is the disparity in education between men and women. Increased education for women has demonstrably led to increased economic growth, social mobility and increased equality. Although in recent times great improvements have been made to ensure that education can be considered universal and non exclusive, challenges still remain. Recent events have once again brought this issue to a fore, and in meeting the challenge this committee must recognise both the global challenges as well as the cultural and regional disparities in education provision.

 

Economic and Social Impact of Provision of Education for Women 

First and foremost education is considered a fundamental human right as per article 26 of the International Declaration of Human Rights. As a United Nations body we have the right and responsibility to uphold the provisions outlined in the declaration. There is a strong and coherent moral argument for equality of education under a belief in the equality of rights and capabilities of women and men. Everyone is entitled, as per the declaration, to “all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Clearly the denial of education to women.

The Socio-economic impact of increased education provision for women is similarly clear. In countries with lower levels of women’s education and labour force participation women are less likely to have access to wage employment and control over wealth and are largely dependent upon male family members. Gender discrimination is frequently codified in law, whether they be national, regional or familial laws or civil codes. In many areas women must obtain permission from their father or husband before attending school. In addition, these attitudes have recently been seen to be reinforced rather than relaxed over time, particularly in states benefitting from increased income and wealth from natural resources.

In states where there has been an increase in education provision for women there is a clear and compelling case demonstrating a general improvement in quality of life for society in general.

  1. Reproductive Choices and Employment

  2. The first area of clear impact is in education’s effects on reproductive choices and employment. Education is considered the single most important determinant of both age at marriage and age at first birth. Educated women generally want smaller families, make better use of reproductive health and family planning information as well as take better control over their personal and family finances. These trends have led directly in developed nations to increased personal freedoms as well as increased quality of life due to a lower dependency ratio. In countries with a high disparity between education rates amongst men and women there has been shown to be a clear correlation between increased education and increased contraception use. An example of this trend is Morocco, a country where female literacy rates are below 60%.

  1. Economic Impact In purely economic terms women’s education contributes directly to the growth of national income by improving the productive capacities of the labour force. A recent study of 19 developing countries concluded that a county’s long term economic growth increases by 3.7% for every year the adult population’s average level of schooling rises. Thus education is a key strategy for reducing poverty. The United Nations Population Fund considers that countries that have made social investments in health, family planning and education have slower population growth and faster economic growth than countries that have not made such investments.

  2. Social Impact

Freedom of education for women is a crucial component of economic and personal freedoms and represents a crucial stage on the path towards general freedom. An educated female population generally are more active in political matters and more pressing for social change, and the acceptance of the right and provision of education often leads to more general social and political liberalisation. There is a strong correlation between states considered as lacking in social and political freedoms and those who lack substantial education provision for women. Of the 30 lowest ranked countries in the State of the World Liberty Index almost all have gender bias in education.

  1. Other general benefits Additional benefits include –

 As female education rises, fertility, population growth and infant and child mortality fall and family health improves – Increases in girls’ secondary school enrolment are associated with increases in women’s participation in the labour force and their contributions to household and national income – Women’s increased earning capacity in turn has a positive effect on child nutrition – Children – especially daughters – of educated mothers are more likely to be enrolled in school and to have higher levels of educational attainment – Educated women are more politically active and better informed about their legal rights an how to exercise them.

Global Education Provision for Women are consistently under-represented in education both in low income countries lacking sufficient infrastructure (such as the vast majority of sub-Saharan Africa)  as well as certain middle to high income countries.

Although there is a correlation between female education provision and wealth (i.e. the lower the GDP, the lower the lower the representation of women in education) in reality there are many rich nations who have not achieved parity. This implies that the major driver of the issue is not national income but rather social and cultural factors. Where education does have an impact is in the pursuit of higher education. In terms of primary and secondary education, however, there are other, more pressing, factors at work.

The region where this issue seems to be of most pressing and immediate concern is the Middle East and Africa. Empowering Women , Developing Society – Female Education in the Middle East and North Africa outlines many of the concerns. Principally MENA countries demonstrably have lower levels of women’s education compared with other regions with similar income levels. This has to do with the interaction between the region’s economic structure as well as its conservative culture in which traditional gender roles are strongly enforced. Egypt’s Demographic and Health survey of 2000 provides insights which help shed light on the regional situation as a whole. Women with children aged 6 to 15 who were asked “If parents have one son and one daughter and can send only one child to university which child should they said.” Of the respondents 53% said they would base it on the child’s capabilities whilst 39% said they would choose the son whereas only 8% said their daughter should go. A survey also found that mothers of children who had never attended school were more likely to cite the const of education as a reason for not educating their daughters than for not educating their sons.

The general trend in the region has been one of improvement. Literacy rates in key states are improving but remain far below international levels as well as local levels for the male populace.

It seems clear from that in countries with a strong Islamic power base with the accompanying cultural and legal repression of women there is a large reduction in female literacy rates (2009) in selected countries female literacy. Overall general MENA literacy rates are not be any means the world’s lowest, many of the most repressed Islamist countries demonstrate vastly lower literacy scores. Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, both benefit from huge amounts of mineral wealth and near total male literacy. A large portion of their female population is illiterate despite this wealth.

With regards to Sub-Saharan and Southern Africa and South and West Asia a great many of the same concerns apply but have a more economic focus. The overall figures from few surveys done at various levels demonstrate a substantially lower literacy rate but these regions show a relatively low gender gap within primary education, with education for women tailing off in secondary and tertiary education. With these countries a great deal of the focus should be on primarily economic factors, although there are still many examples of systemic inequality due to social and cultural norms.

  

UN Policies and Initiatives to Consider

  1. Millennium Goals

The UN Millennium Summit held in September 2000 produced a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) covering a range of development issues including reducing child mortality, fighting various infectious diseases, eradicating illiteracy and empowering women. The MDGs and their associated targets and indicators were designed as benchmarks for sustaining development and eliminating poverty. The international community recognises that unless girls’ education improves, few of the MDGs will be achieved. Two of the goals specifically deal with female education and women’s empowerment.

Goal 2 – Achieve universal primary education. Target:  Ensure that, by 2015, all children, boys and girls alike, will have access to a full course of primary education. Indicators for this goal: the net enrolment ratio in primary education; the proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach grade 5; and the literacy rate of 15-24 year olds

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women. Target: Eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels of education no later than 2015. Indicators for this goal: the ratio of girls to boys in primary secondary and tertiary education; the ratio of literate females to males among 15 – 24 year olds; the share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector; the proportion of seats in national parliament held by women.

 

 As of the writing of this column these goals have not been achieved and indeed in many cases progress has shuddered to a halt.

  1. Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education

A global initiative launched by UNESCO in 2011 with the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon; Unesco Director General Irina Bokova and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This initiative aims to galvanize support from the private and public sectors to make quality education available for girls and women everywhere. The Secretary of State announced that the U.S. will support UNESCO’s work in collating data on gender and education, saying that “more data will help target investment where it will have the greatest impact.” She also stressed the potential of partnerships, notably with the private sector, to raise funds and, equally importantly, to find creative new ways for more effective action.” Other participants in the Forum included the Aga Khan, founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network Foundation and senior representatives of several corporate giants participating in the partnership – including Nokia, Procter and Gamble, GEMS Education, Microsoft and the Packard Foundation.

 

 

 

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Anant Mishra

Anant Mishra is a former youth representative for United Nations. Almost 4 years of experience, he has served in number of committees including United Nations Conference for Trade and Development and United Nations General Assembly primarily focusing on international trade, education, finance, economics. food crisis And disputes. He is available on anantmishra92@gmail.com

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