There are dozens of indicators of whether a country is on the road to development, but the most far reaching one is, believe it or not, the education and empowerment of young women. Investing in girls by giving them knowledge and skills to make better decisions and improve their own lives has been shown to have an amazing ripple effect – impacting income, health, economic development, and environmental sustainability, which combined create a more productive and stable society for us all.
Here are the numbers to prove it:
• A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.
• Just a 1% increase in women with secondary education boosts their country’s annual per capita income growth rate by 0.3 percentage points. e.g. in India, a 1% increase of girls in secondary school would mean a GDP increase of $5.5 billion.
• A child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5.
• Girls who receive education beyond primary school marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children, on average, than girls with less education.
• Women invest 90% of their earnings back into the family, compared with 30% for men.
Last weekend I was invited to be a part of a Female Gender Workshop at Miryante Orphan’s home in Kibogo District. A handful of us PCVs gathered with handpicked peer leaders Saturday to organize sessions, that we would deliver to 80 girl participants the next day. My friend Lantana and I took on Reproductive Health with 4 phenomenal Ugandan girls aged 13-16: Phiona, Rosette, Agnes, and Allan. (Others did Malaria Prevention, Mad Science Volcanoes, Why is the Sky Blue?, Decision Making, Team Building, and Water & Sanitation.)
The six of us got to know each other and then made a game plan, some teaching aids, and did a practice run before we had a massive slumber party and were awoken a few short hours later by the roosters.
The participants arrived mpola mpola (slowly by slowly)and after songs and games, it was onto classes. The girls taught small groups of their peers for a total of six sessions throughout the day. After Lan and I jumped in with just a few additions during the first class, our girls completely took over and didn’t look to us even once more for assistance. By the afternoon, they were answering complex questions about anatomy, pregnancy, and family planning; cold calling their ‘students’ to make sure they were understanding the lesson; and just totally in their element, and totally killing it. By the end of the day, I was bursting with pride for my confident, bright, whimsical, independent, creative little group of soon-to-be movers and shakers.
Where a woman rules, streams run uphill.
[African Proverb – Ethiopia]