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Gender Equality in Education Shows Improvements

A few weeks ago on the RIPA International blog, I wrote about the achievements of women in power for International Women’s Day. But more than the dedication and success of a few individuals, there are other gains that are more important, as they affect the lives of hundreds of millions of women around the world. Among many such successes, few have as far reaching effects as giving girls access to education.

An Afghan school girl in a classroom  (Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/The Guardian)
As women do the brunt of subsistence-related labour, giving them the opportunity to learn enables them to improve many aspects of their lives, as well as that of their families and entire societies. A woman who knows how to read can administer medicines to her children properly.

A woman with basic analytical skills can figure out ways to improve her family’s harvest. A woman with basic mathematical skills can budget and plan her household’s expenditure, and are in a better position to deal with dishonest traders.

When in paying jobs, women also earn 5 to 15% more per extra year of schooling, and this effect is actually higher for girls than boys. But the positive aggregate effects are also astounding: a 63-country study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) finds that women’s education was the greatest factor explaining decreasing levels of malnutrition between 1970 and 1995.

The fastest and simplest way to improve enrolments for children in general and girls in particular is to make school an economically sound option. There are a range of methods to accomplish this, from providing school meals and materials, through cutting school fees, to offering conditional or unconditional cash transfers (CCTs and UCTs). For instance, some programmes have offered a higher CCT for enrolling girls than boy. By supporting families directly, they can take a more long-term view to their subsistence, in which they find it easier to appreciate the benefits of education.

But biological and cultural constraints when it comes to female enrolment have also been managed. As girls grow up, their school-time access to clean water and sanitation is essential – especially if they live far from the school as often is the case. This is especially so for secondary school enrolment.

An Indian girl reading from a textbook (Photo:
In societies were men and women are traditionally segregated, setting up separate schooling for girls and boys has made female education more acceptable. Where women are seen more as a liability than an asset – often due to them severing household ties after marriage – gender adjusted CCTs have been found effective.

Whilst without them, families’ investments into girls would be “lost” after marriage, with CCTs they have a direct incentive to send their girls to school, even if it will be another household who will reap the final benefits of education. Indeed, poverty is usually a stronger obstacle than culture, that once lifted can give families the leverage to be a bit more liberal with social norms, which in this case has positive aggregate effects as described earlier.

In spite of great progress, there are new challenges on the horizon. Women’s literacy rates are still low in many countries, and their educational opportunities are still not in par with the boys. What do you think should be the first priorities? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.

This story was originally written by Edvin Arnby-Machata
Edvin Arnby-Machata is a thinker and writer on conflict issues and international affairs. He is currently West Africa Editor at Global South Development Magazine and manages the Royal Institute of Public Administration’s (RIPA International) company blog, and has written for numerous publications, including Political Reflections Magazine, Development Roast and the openDemocracy blog. He has studied at Uppsala University, Istanbul Bilgi University, and the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London. Follow him on twitter: @edvin_am

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