A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that girls have consistently achieved better grades in school than boys for decades. Despite this revolutionary finding, there is still a disproportionate amount of girls around the world who are not granted equal access to education.

What was thought to be a recent “boy crisis” of boys falling behind girls in school has proven to be false. Girls have consistently done better in school for decades without any significant change.

Data collected between 1914 and 2011 in over 30 countries has shown that girls have persistently achieved better grades in every subject across the board. The regions included range from North America, to Europe, to the Middle East and Africa, with the grades of 538,710 boys and 595,322 girls from 308 studies.

Grades given by teachers and official grade point averages were used from elementary, middle and high school, as well as undergraduate and graduate levels. The largest gap was found to be in languages and the smallest gap in math and science. Although boys tended to score higher in math and science in standardized tests, this is only the test of aptitude for a given moment, whereas school grades require hard work over longer periods of time.

Co-Author of the study, Susan Voyer, notes that this phenomenon of girls out-performing boys appears to be a well-kept secret considering how little global attention it has received.

In 2011, UNICEF found that there were 31 million primary-school-aged girls and 34 million lower-secondary-school-aged girls who were not enrolled in school. That the study took place in countries across the globe, and not exclusively in one country or even one region, proves that there is a great deal of untapped potential. Imagine how much more could be achieved globally if every girl had access to education.

The benefits of allowing girls equal access to education are endless. When girls attend school, they delay marriage and in turn delay the age of child bearing. This saves the lives of both women and their children, because there are fewer risks when girls wait until after adolescence to bear children. UNESCO found that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, maternal deaths could be reduced by 70 percent, and child deaths reduced by 15 percent if all girls completed primary school.

The benefits continue to the next generation, as girls that attended school are far more likely to send their children to school. Girls can also earn higher wages and therefore gain economic independence as a result of receiving an education. When girls complete one year of secondary education, their wages later in life increase by 25 percent.

According to UNESCO, women make up two-thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate people. This is unfair given the existing research that shows that if given the opportunity, girls will continuously perform better in school than boys. Although girls should not have to prove themselves in order to receive equal access to education, this study is a testament to the mass amount of potential being lost by denying girls this human right.

– Kim Tierney 

Sources: UNICEF, PsyBlog, APA, UNESCO
Photo: She Knows

Although recent gains have been made in advancing equality for same-sex couples, the majority of the world’s countries do not have any legislation permitting same-sex marriage. As of 2014, only 16 countries have laws allowing same-sex marriage.  The majority of those countries are in Europe and South America, while the rest of the world struggles to gain ground for this meaningful right.

It is important to note, however, that legal recognition of gay couples varies from country to country and even within countries. Some countries provide full recognition of gay marriage, while other provide for limited civil union status, to even countries that criminalize same-sex marriage such as Uganda.

France legalized gay marriage after much effort and debate in May 2013, becoming the 14th country to do so. Despite more than 60% of France approving of same-sex marriage, the approval of same-sex marriage provoked acts of violence and protests that drew in hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country.

A prior law, the Pacte civile de Soldarité, allowed for civil unions between couples but did not provide the full benefits that marriage brings. Namely, the law did not confer similar treatment under the law for same-sex couples over inheritance issues and parenting rights.

The Netherlands was the first country to grant full legal recognition of same-sex marriage under the law when it passed a bill in 2001. One major difference between the treatment of same-sex couples and heterosexual couples lies in the birth of children. In the Netherlands, the biological father of the child is considered the father while their partner needs to adopt the child in order to obtain a co-parenting status.

In May 2013, a legal body in Brazil, the National Council of Justice, handed down a ruling effectively legalizing gay marriage. The ruling explicitly prohibited government officials from discriminating against same-sex couples by denying them the right to marry. Before this ruling, Brazil allowed for same-sex civil unions through its constitution, which permits “stable unions.” Stable unions gave many same-sex couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples, from the right to joint declaration of income tax, pension, property sharing, and inheritance.

In 2006, South Africa became the only country on the African continent to legalize same-sex marriage when it passed the Civil Union Act. This approval had its roots in the 1997 constitution that was the first to recognize sexual orientation as a basic human right. Despite this progressive legislation, some say homophobia in South Africa continues to be rampant, with famous South African soccer star Eudy Simelane killed in a hate-crime due to her sexual orientation.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, The New York Times
Photo: Illinois Observer

In early February, humanitarian organization CARE and the H&M Conscious Foundation announced they had formed a three year partnership to support women’s empowerment in poor nations across the globe.

The H&M Conscious Foundation has donated $9.2 million towards this program with CARE to work for change worldwide. Karl-Johan Persson, H&M’s CEO and a board member of the H&M Conscious Foundation said in regard to the partnership with CARE that, “Together we will invest in actions to empower women in developing countries economically, as we are convinced it is a catalyst for positive change.”

Most of the world’s poor are women and girls; while they are responsible for approximately two-thirds of the world’s total working hours, they only earn 10 percent of the world’s income and 1 percent of the world’s property. In light of these statistics, CARE and the H&M Conscious Foundation have teamed up to change them.

Since its founding in 1945, CARE has become one of the foremost humanitarian organizations dedicated to fighting global poverty and providing emergency assistance. Last year, CARE was able to help over 83 million people in 84 different countries by improving basic health care and education, as well as giving people access to clean water and sanitation, among other acts.

The H&M Conscious Foundation is an independent and non-profit organization that was created in 2007 upon the celebration of H&M’s 60th anniversary.

CARE International’s Secretary General Dr. Robert Glasser said in regard to the partnership with H&M Conscious Foundation that, “Women and girls are the key to fighting poverty. Our six decades of experience has shown us that when you empower a girl or a woman, she transforms not only her own family, but entire communities as well.”

When women are given equal rights and society acknowledges these rights, the benefits can be seen in society as a whole, resulting in economic growth and improvements in both health and the wellbeing of children.

The $9.2 million donation from the Conscious Foundation will be used to give 100,000 women in developing countries access to tools, knowledge, and financial resources previously unavailable to them. In addition, CARE will be responsible for organizing five regional campaigns that will help to raise awareness of why these women can reach their full potential, disproving the myths that perpetuate the idea that they cannot.

Dr. Glasser went on to say that this program of empowerment, “is not just about providing training or financing to women.” He went on to say that, “It is about helping them to change relationships and social structures that stifle their potential and their capacity to transform their societies,” a vision that CARE shares with H&M Conscious Foundation.

H&M Conscious Foundation’s overall goals for the program are to give 100,000 women in poor communities access to whatever they need to economically empower them, start five campaigns with positive and influential role models to raise awareness about the current barriers who women who want to fully be involved in society, and to develop a global report that encourages policy changes that are necessary for more women to overcome the world’s barriers.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: H&M Conscious Foundation, CARE
PhotoCare International

The world in the past two decades has progressed in leaps and bounds in the name of women’s rights. Women today are less likely to die during childbirth, more likely to know how to read and write as well as participate in politics and in general have increased control over the health of their families and themselves.

September 1994 saw the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which highlighted increased efforts for empowering women. Consisting of over 200 recommendations, the program earned acceptance from 179 countries. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing pledged to reach gender equality and create an equal decision-making environment by further opening both public and private life to women.

The 1994 Conference in Cairo was the first time states officially agreed on the necessity of equal rights and access to health services as a fundamental stepping stone on the path to sustainable development. Efforts toward equality, however, have not prevailed in equal numbers throughout the world.  While equality numbers have improved on average, the United Nations claims progress is exceedingly fragmented.

Poor communities are not seeing the results of sweeping women’s rights reforms. Over the same 20-year timeline, women in less developed societies have witnessed little to no positive change. On the contrary, the results in some cases are worsening.

One third of women have experienced some sort of physical abuse, with men in some regions overtly admitting to having raped at no consequence to themselves. Furthermore, more than 140 million girls and women live with the uncomfortable results of female genital mutilation. No matter how many U.N. Resolutions have expressed the need for female involvement in matters of conflict resolution, women continue to go uninvited from peace talks. Moreover, women’s rights groups, the groups relied upon to make improvements in this arena, are largely underfunded.

In March 2014, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women will convene in New York to discuss these issues and the progress of the millennium development goals. The needs of young people will be of primary concern, due to reports noting that, of those aged 10 to 24, 90% live in developing countries.

With improved access to education, healthcare and economic rights, perhaps benefits of reforms on behalf of the world’s female population will reach the poor as well as the rich. The journey toward women’s equal rights will not be complete until all women, across the globe, have attained successful equality.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: TIME, The Guardian: Key Year for Women’s Rights, New York Times, The Guardian: Access Still Unequal
Photo: Uncornered Market