Invest in educating our girls

2017-08-13 06:07

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The role of education in socioeconomic development is an imperative one, and directly impacts social inequalities relating to women and girls, which are embedded in all spheres of social life – a product of the systemic exclusion of black people and women under colonialism and apartheid.

Social, political and economic discrimination and inequalities between men and women profoundly shaped, and continue to shape, the South African education system and its outputs.

Yet, investing in the education of young girls only stands to benefit the country in its quest to curb increasing poverty.

In the Bah·’Ì teachings, there are two extraordinary statements about the education of women.

First, that women’s education is of greater importance than men’s education and, secondly, that not until the equality of opportunity in education for the two sexes is established will any country thrive economically, socially or otherwise.

This because women account for roughly half a country’s population, perform two-thirds of the hours worked, receive one-tenth of the country’s income, and have less than one hundredth of the country’s property registered in their names.

Women’s education is one of the major variables behind the rates of social and economic development, and has been shown to have a positive correlation with both.

According to notable economist Lawrence Summers, “investment in the education of girls may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world”.

The most common way to measure how women’s education advances economic development is to look at changes in the growth of gross domestic product (GDP).

This is done by first finding the cost of education and the amount of income that would have been earned during years enrolled in school.

The difference between the sum of these two quantities and the total increase in income due to education is the net return that is reflected through the economy.

According to a report on basic education by the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, both individuals and countries benefit from women’s education.

Individuals who invest in education receive a net monetary gain over the course of their lifetime, and this gain creates the overall economic productivity of a country.

World Bank lead education economist Harry Patrinos said: “The profitability of education, according to estimates of private rate of return, is indisputable, universal.”

The principle holds particularly true for women, who can expect a higher return than men on the resources they invest in education.

Girls are underrepresented in schooling, meaning that investments aimed specifically at educating women should produce bigger regular earnings. However, it is notable that a substantive gap in GDP growth is accounted for solely by differences in the gender gap in education.

The report also indicates that, while the enrolment of boys and girls at school is roughly equal, dropout rates among girls before matric are higher.

This is because girls’ education is not seen as a priority in traditional households, and sometimes girls find themselves with the burden of having to head households, or have to miss school simply because they don’t have sanitary pads.

Girls are not just underrepresented, they are undervalued and face serious underinvestment.

However, women’s education doesn’t just stand to strengthen the economy, it also increases the equitability of the distribution of wealth in a society.

Increased women’s education is important for achieving this as it targets impoverished women, a particularly disadvantaged group; with evidence showing that lower gender disparity in educational attainment for a developing country correlates with lower income disparity in society.

Some of the significant social developments women’s education leads to, according to Harvard academic Martha Nussbaum, include decreased fertility rates, lower infant mortality rates, lower maternal mortality rates, increased gender equality, improved cognitive abilities and increased quality of life for women.

One example of this, as cited by scholar Nails Kabeer, is the fact that educated women are better able to make decisions related to health, both for themselves and their children and are less likely to accept domestic violence regardless of other social status indicators like employment status.

Cognitive abilities also translate to increased political participation among women.

Educated women are more likely to engage in civic participation and attend political meetings, and there are several instances in which educated women in the developing world were able to secure benefits for themselves through political movements.

The development of women in structures and institutions of power in democratic governments is most likely to occur when young girls and women are well-educated and are able to utilise this education to further liberate themselves and contribute to the socioeconomic development of the country.

Everybody has a role to play in the success of our nation, the disenfranchisement of women only means fewer people to advance the cause.

We need to shift the way we see women and girls in South Africa and recognise their potential for change, even outside the month of August.

Seabe is a black radical feminist writer who was actively involved in #FeesMustFall protests, and is currently enrolled in the ASRI: Future Leaders Programme

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Read more on:    education  |  month  |  women’s  |  women empowerment

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