EDUCATION AND WOMEN
Governments, families, non-profit organisations, and learned individuals constantly emphasize the importance of education in modern life. But why? The innocently brilliant villagers who never went to school live happier than CEOs of multinational corporations. One wonders if education is necessary at all in that case. Then why is everyone talking about education, especially of women? Let us try to tackle this question in this episode of enquiry.
If we analyse the root cause of all evil in the world, we find ignorance. “Ignorance is the root cause and stem of all evil”, said Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher. Look around us. If children fight for a candy, it is because they don’t know that it can be shared. If siblings fight over their ancestral property, it is because they do not know that love is much more valuable than property. If two nations fight over land or oil or ideology, it is because they are blind to larger good of humanity. Ultimately, it is ignorance that creates all evil around us. The innocent farmer lives happily and peacefully because he is not ignorant. Therefore, if we need peace around us, we need to eliminate ignorance from amongst us. How do we do that?
Mahatma Gandhi’s words answer this question: “If you want to reach real peace in this world, we should start educating children”. What does this mean? Education is the path that leads to peace. Education can eliminate ignorance and bring peace. Remember the ancient peace chant of India (Shanti Mantra):
asato mā sadgamaya
tamasomā jyotir gamaya
Oṁ śhānti śhānti śhāntiḥ
which means, ‘From ignorance, lead me to truth; From darkness, lead me to light; From death, lead me to immortality; Om peace, peace, peace’. This ancient lyric deeply captures the essence of education which removes ignorance, darkness, death, untruth, and misery.
If everyone knows that education is necessary for life, why is most of the world still uneducated? Nobel laureate Ms. Malala Yousafzai can answer this question. In her opinion, pen is mightier than the gun, and all evil forces in the world are afraid of education. Her life is an example of how fundamental forces want to keep most of the population undereducated and ignorant. She rose above fear of death and told the world about the need to educate the world, especially women. She says, “Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: a girl with a book”.
That brings us to the topic of women’s education. It is necessary to talk about women’s education particularly because the percentage of educated women around the world is much less compared to that of men. According to the statistics of United Nations Statistics Division, two thirds of worlds 774 million adult illiterates are women. This has remained unchanged for the past 20 years across the globe. UNESCO says that almost a quarter of young women aged 15-24 today (116 million) in developing countries have never completed primary school. They lack skills for work and face unemployment. Young women make up 58% of those not completing primary school. Lack of women’s education keeps the entire world at a loss. Women play more important role in human development than men, and therefore their education is of utmost importance. Here are a few reasons for the importance of women’s education as per UNESCO’s research database.
- Educated women are less likely to die at childbirth
Mothers who completed at least primary education can bring down maternal deaths by two-thirds, saving 98,000 lives a year. In sub-Saharan Africa alone 50,000 lives can be saved if women are educated.
- Educating girls can save millions of lives
If all women received primary education, child deaths would be fewer by 15%. If all women had a secondary education, it would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives every year.
- Mothers’ education improves child nutrition
If all women had a primary education, 1.7 million children would escape stunting due to malnutrition. Secondary education would have saved 12 million from malnutrition every year.
- Educated girls are less likely to have children at an early age
Underage pregnancy is a curse even in developed countries. Research showed that 10% fewer girls would become pregnant under 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they had a primary education. Secondary education would have saved almost 60% teenage pregnancies.
- Educating girls helps lower birth rates
On an average, sub-Saharan African women have 6.7 births during their life time. The figure falls to 5.8 for those with primary education and to 3.9, for those with secondary education.
- Educated girls say no to early marriage
If all girls had a primary education, there would be 14% fewer child marriages. Secondary education would have brought it down to two-thirds.
- Education narrows pay gaps between men and women
In Pakistan and Jordan, women with a primary education earn 51% and 53% of what men earn respectively. But with secondary education, they earn 70% and 67% of what men earn.
- Educated women are more likely to be employed
In Brazil, only 37% of women with less than primary education is in work. This rises to 50% if they have a primary education, and 60% with a secondary education. Same is the case around the globe.
Education thus is a liberating tool, hence the importance. In many parts of the world, even today gender is an important factor that decides whether or not one receives education and gets employment. The percentage of girls in higher education needs to go up. In IITs, girls occupy just 9% seats. 95% poorest girls in Somalia aged between 7 and 16 have never gone to school. This data is alarming and upsetting.
But the trends are changing for the better. In the fields of education, social sciences, humanities, arts, and health-and-welfare at tertiary education level, women’s representation has gone up significantly. Today, more than a quarter of all scientific researchers in the world are women. There are women teachers, police officers, administrators, CEOs, entrepreneurs, pilots, astronauts, and what not! This trend of hope needs to continue. The gender gap needs to be filled in all walks of life. Equality everywhere should be our goal.
The traditional gender role assignment around the globe needs to be transformed. Women have to assert their rights and fight for equality. Crimes against women have to be brought down. For everything, education is the key word. Women’s education is the best way to save our culture, tradition, humanity, and our planet. There is a long way to go, but we definitely will reach the goal.
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