Why Should We Pay Attention to Girls?

7 Nov

Poverty is a big problem. Huge, insurmountable, complex, overwhelming. There seems to be no clear-cut solution. More water? Less war? Better education? Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about a more unexpected solution. On the surface, it seems too simple to work, but its implications can significantly affect the future of humanity. And it all starts with a girl. Take a look at this video from The Girl Effect to understand:

I saw this campaign last year and still really believe in its cause. It’s a pretty powerful idea : “When a girl benefits, so does everyone in society, including business. Girls as economic actors can bring about change for themselves, their families, and their countries. Conversely, ignoring the girl effect can cost societies billions in lost potential.” The New York Times states that the reason foreign aid is increasingly directed to women is because “the world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”

And the The Girl Effect has the facts to back up their cause. I went to its website and found some pretty interesting statistics.The following really stuck with me:

  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent
    of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40
    percent for a man.
  • Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth,
    70 percent are girls.
  • Pregnancy is the leading cause of death in girls 15-19
  • 96 million girls in developing countries are illiterate
  • 1% of the world’s landowners are women

The same NYT article describes the experience of one woman in Pakistan, Saima Muhammad, who faced beatings and resentment from her unemployed husband, who was $3,000 in debt. She was forced to send her daughter to live with an aunt because she could not afford to feed her. That all changed after Muhammad took a small loan from a microfinance organization,which had her meet every two weeks to discuss repayment and learn about social issues, like family planning or schooling for girls. With the loan, she worked her way up and now has her own embroidery business, with 30 of her neighbors working for her.  She was able to pay off her husband’s debt, keep her daughters in school, renovate the house, connect running water and buy a television.

Basically, it’s a ripple effect. More educated women lead healthier, better lives and reinvest those lifestyles into their children and communities. Of course, there are critiques to campaigns like The Girl Effect. The solution is too vague and, like I’ve said, poverty is complex. Teaching a girl how to read is not going to necessarily end global poverty. There are deep-rooted social customs that just can’t be squashed, especially in patriarchal societies, ones that will never put a woman’s advancements first. Additionally, some countries, in parts of Somalia for example, need to tackle much more pressing issues, such as a seemingly never-ending drought and the terror of warfare. You cannot put issues like that aside to start a school for young girls.

Regardless, I think this organization is doing a good job of getting a conversation going. It relies heavily on social media for some two-way communication and makes multilingual efforts to expand its reach. It has people talking about how we can take care of women who  one day want to be able to take care of themselves.

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