What if I told you a girl is the answer to the problem of extreme poverty. Would you believe me?
The United Nations, world leaders, and many other world organizations like the Nike foundation and the Ted Turner United Nations Foundation believe in the “girl factor” to end poverty. These leaders, countries, and organizations have come together through both the Millennium Development Goals other initiatives like the 1994 Cairo Consensus recognized education, especially for women, as a force for social and economic development.
The United Nations believes so deeply that extreme poverty can be eradicated, that they have invested time, money and human resources to create a set of common goals for developing countries, known as the Millennium Development Goals. (I encourage you to visit the United Nations website and learn more about how these goals intend to end poverty.)
Identifying that two-thirds of the world’s 799 million illiterate adults ages 15 and over are women, one of the benchmark goals of the Millennium Development project is to eliminate gender disparity at all levels of education by 2015 and empower women. They understand that many children in developing countries start life without adequate means of learning but women and girls are the ones that are particularly challenged.
UNICEF and United Nations’ research state that some 67 countries have primary school attendance and enrolment rates for girls less than 85 percent. Globally, there are just 96 girls for every 100 boys in primary school, with disparities at the secondary level even more acute. Yet uneducated girls are more at risk than boys to become marginalized. They are more vulnerable to exploitation and sex trafficking. They are more likely than educated girls to contract HIV/AIDS, which spreads twice as quickly among uneducated girls than among girls that have even some schooling. Nearly a third of all adults living with HIV/AIDS are under the age of 25, and almost two thirds of these people are women. As unschooled adults, these girls will be less likely to have a say socially and politically and to be able to support themselves. Women earn only one tenth of the world’s income and own less than one percent of property, so households without a male head are at special risk of impoverishment, lack of healthcare and immunizations.1
Even Wall Street is interested in promoting girls and education. Sandra Lawson, author of a 15-page paper given to clients by the prominent New York investment banking firm, Goldman Sachs says, “Education, and particularly women’s education, is critical” to economic growth, says Lawson. Her paper goes on to insist that, “Educating girls and women leads to higher wages,” and that they will have, “A greater likelihood of working outside the home; lower fertility; reduced maternal and child mortality; and better health and education. The impact is felt not only in women’s lifetimes, but also in the health, education, and productivity of future generations.” But if you don’t want to take another woman’s word on the matter, listen to what Malcolm Ehrenpreis, the head of special gender unit at the World Bank believes. He says, it is just plain “good economics” to promote the welfare of girls! 2
In a book review I read recently on Women Hold Up Half the Sky, the writer of the review, Kate Grant said something I will never forget. “The enemy [to change] is not men. The enemy is indifference and its evil twin inaction.” Kate is correct. When we talk about promoting and empowering women, some people will automatically assume that our statement means we must not be promoting and empowering men; that somehow we plan to work alone to promote the “girl factor”. This could not be further from the truth in my mind. It is imperative that both men and women, both bearing the image of God, should be treated with dignity, compassion, honor, love, mercy, and justice and should partner together to treat each other the on equal terms. This is the way Jesus treated every individual and this is what is expected of us if the world is ever going to be a different place.
I believe it can happen. And I believe in the “girl factor”!
1 United Nations Population Fund. Empowering Women Through Education. Retrieved August 16, 2012 from, http://www.unicef.org/mdg/gender.html
2 Francis, David (August 4, 2008). As women progress in developing nations, so do those countries’ economies Retrieved August 20, 2012 from, http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2008/0804/p14s02-wmgn.html