We’re not the only supporters of girls’ education

Madonna announced she plans to sell a 1921 cubist painting, “Three Women,” by Fernand Léger to help raise money for girls’ education projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The singer said she wanted to “trade something valuable for something invaluable.”

Also, Angelina Jolie, Hollywood actor/director and UN goodwill ambassador, opened a girls’ primary school in Afghanistan, funded with sales from her jewelry line, which she created with “the goal of providing for children in need.”

Girls' Education

It’s easy to be skeptical or even cynical about entertainers getting involved in causes. But their contributions matter. They help raise awareness of and money for girls’ education – both of which are needed.

They can also be seen as part of a growing “popular movement” to challenge the prejudices that keep girls out of school, a trend noted by UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown.

Central Asia Institute (CAI) has focused on educating girls in remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan for over twenty years.

Why focus on girls’ education? CAI Co-founder Greg Mortenson sums it up this way: “Once you educate the boys, they often leave the villages and search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass their knowledge onto their own children. If you really want to empower societies, reduce poverty, improve basic hygiene and health care, reduce the population explosion, and fight high rates of infant and maternal mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”

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More than half of the 100 million children around the world not in school are girls, according to UNICEF. In recent years, the number of girls attending primary schools around the world has grown, but the disparity between the number of girls and boys in secondary school remains high – especially in the world’s poorest countries.

To reiterate and underscore why girls’ education is important, CAI has compiled a list of the Top 10 reasons why girls’ education makes a difference:

Girls' Education


Children of educated women are less likely to die before their first birthday. “Primary education alone helps reduce infant mortality significantly, and secondary education helps even more,” according to “What Works In Girls’ Education.”

Infant mortality rate

= Afghanistan: 121 deaths per 1,000 live births (highest in world)
= Pakistan: 61 per 1,000
= Tajikistan: 37 per 1,000
= USA: 6 per 1,000.
Source: Global Health Facts 2012


Educated women (with greater knowledge of health care and fewer pregnancies) are less likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth, or during the postpartum period. Increased education of girls also leads to more female health care providers to assist with prenatal medical care, labor and delivery, delivery complications and emergencies, and follow-up care.

Maternal mortality rates

= Afghanistan: 460 per 100,000
= Pakistan: 260 per 100,000
= Tajikistan: 79 per 100,000
= USA: 21
Source: Unicef 2010

Girls' Education


Educated women have a greater chance of escaping poverty, leading healthier and more productive lives, and raising the standard of living for their children, families, and communities.

It also benefits nations as a whole: Increasing the share of women with a secondary education by 1 percent boosts annual per capita income growth by 0.3 percent, according to the World Bank. That’s significant, since per capita income gains in developing countries seldom exceed 3 percent a year.

In subsistence farming communities, educated farmers are also more efficient and their farms more productive, which leads to increased crop yields and declines in malnutrition, according to the UN World Food Program.

Quality of life

The UN Human Poverty Index measures and ranks 186 countries using adult literacy rates, probability of living to age 40, access to clean drinking water, and number of underweight children. The lower the number, the better the quality of life.
= Afghanistan: No. 175
= Pakistan: No. 148
= Tajikistan: No. 125
= USA: No. 3
Source: UNDP


Child marriage – in some cases involving girls as young as 6 or 8 – almost always results in the end of a girl’s schooling. The result is illiterate or barely literate young mothers without adequate tools to build healthy, educated families. On average, for every year a girl stays in school past fifth grade, her marriage is delayed a year.

Educated girls typically marry later, when they are better able to bear and care for their children.

As the Afghan author Khaled Hosseini said: “Marriage can wait, education cannot.”

Girls' Education


Educated women tend to have fewer (and healthier) babies. A 2000 study in Brazil found that literate women had an average of 2.5 children while illiterate women had an average of six children, according to UNESCO.

Taking that a step further, let’s say the literate woman had three children and made sure they were educated. If they in turn had 3 children each, grandma would have nine grandchildren. Carry that one more generation and she’d have 27 great-grandchildren.

Conversely, the illiterate woman would have six children, all of whom would be less likely to attend school. If they each had six children, grandma would have 36 grandchildren, and 216 grandchildren.

In developing countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, the explosion of people drawing on finite resources reduces the standard of living for everyone.

Population growth

= Pakistan: 177 million people, growing about 2 percent a year.
= Afghanistan: 35 million people, growing at nearly 3 percent.
= Tajikistan: 7 million people; growing at 1.4 percent per year.
= USA: 311 million people; growing at less than 1 percent.
SOURCE: World Bank 2011


Educated women “learn what their children need to stay healthy and how to secure necessary support for their children,” including health care, better nutrition and sanitation, according to the book, “What Works In Girls’ Education,” published by the Council on Foreign Affairs.

Educated females also channel more of their resources to the health of their children than men.

Girls' Education


Educated women are more likely to participate in political discussions, meetings, and decision-making, which in turn promotes a more representative, effective government. As more women are educated and approach parity with men, research shows “governments and other institutions function better and with less corruption,” according to “What Works In Girls’ Education.” Women with leadership skills are also a major factor in sparking economic and social change.


Educated girls and women are less likely to be victims of domestic and sexual violence or to tolerate it in their families. Conversely, “In poor areas where women are isolated within their communities, have little education and cannot earn much, girls are often regarded as an economic burden and women and girls sometimes suffer deliberate neglect or outright harm,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.


Educated women more likely to insist on education for their own children, especially their daughters. Their children study as much as two hours more each day than children of illiterate mothers and stay in school longer.


As women become more educated, they are less likely to support militancy and terrorism than similarly educated men, according to a University of Maryland School of Public Policy survey. The survey of Pakistani women also found that uneducated women are more likely to support militancy and terrorism than similarly educated men.

As noted last week on this blog, this is important for many reasons, not least of which is that young men and boys recruited by extremist groups are required to get their mother’s’ blessings before joining such an organization, or going on a suicide mission, the researcher noted. So, girls who are educated – especially who complete secondary school – grow up to be mothers who are less likely to give their sons permission to pursue violent solutions.

Six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are female, according to the UN. Giving girls and women tools to fight their way out of poverty begins with education.

CAI works with local communities to create sustainable, community-driven education, especially for girls, in isolated mountain regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. In many cases, these girls are the first in their villages to attend school and will be role models for generations to come. They need your support.

QUOTE: You can drop bombs, send in troops, build roads, put in electricity, or hand out condoms, but unless the girls are educated, a society will not change. – Greg Mortenson

– Karin Ronnow, former CAI communications director

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