When we empower girls, everybody benefits. Girls who are educated, healthy and free can transform their communities and pass on the benefits to their children, and to their children’s children. Yet the reality is that women are still treated as second-class citizens of this world; girls are almost completely ignored. Girls have no status, no protection and no prospects in many families and communities – and this is simply the way things are. Inequality is so entrenched that it isn’t even questioned.
That is why today, the International Day of the Girl, marks an important step. The importance of investing in girls is increasingly understood among policy-makers. Kenya is already doing good work, focusing specifically on girls’ education and economic independence, preventing violence against girls and women, preventing forced early marriages, preventing Female Genital Mutilation, and supporting safe childbirth.
Yet there is still much progress to be made.
When we look at some of the important areas where we can work towards the empowerment of the girl child, education stands as top priority. If international conferences on empowerment of girls are anything to go by, education is by far the most critical of aspects to be examined. While we take Kenya as our primary example, the truth is in fact widespread internationally. Of the children not attending school, girls seem to be in higher numbers than boys. This naturally translates to a higher number of women being illiterate, compared to men.
Providing girls with basic education is a simple assurance of giving them greater personal power and independence. They will be able to make better choices for themselves than depend on those around them for the same. This ability must not be a luxury for them but rather a necessity.
Going by just the fact that we will have happy and healthy women with such a move should be motivation enough for us to promote girl’s education. If we look at the bigger picture, an educated woman may also contribute to society in several ways with her skills and confidence. Her efficiency as a parent, worker and a citizen of her country are greatly improved.
Educated girls are likely to postpone marriage to an age when they are well prepared mentally and materially as well. In our country alone, infant mortality rates among primary level schooled mothers are half of what they were when compared to illiterate mothers.
Studies also show how women get more productive at work and thus command a better pay scale. International studies show that every additional year of schooling increases a woman’s earning capacity by 15%. For a man, this figure stands at only 11%.
There is a lot that can be done to improve on the quality of education as well as the avenues and opportunities for a woman. Here is what we as a nation can do:
- Get more parents involved: A family and community will need to work together to understand the importance of female education and provide them opportunities for the same.
- Budget education and flexible timings: Basic education must be free or at a subsidized rate. If stipends and scholarships are included, the incentive to enroll students will be higher. Being able to compensate for the lack of a working member of the family is what is needed.
- Schools in the vicinity: Parents worry about child safety. Having schools close by and having female instructors will be of great help.
The Alfred Polo Foundation works towards empowering the girl children by promoting education among the under-privileged. This is done through donations as well as collaborations with schools that may need help.