The Indian education system is steadily improving, thanks in part to the Right to Education Act passed in 2009. This granted free education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Now, 98 percent of children in India are enrolled in primary school. But this number does not tell the full story.

Many students in India still slip between the cracks — namely, female students. 62 percent of out-of-school children are female, as are two-thirds of illiterate citizens between the ages of 15 and 24. Furthermore, female students are much more likely to face harassment at school, which contributes to their increased dropout rates.

In 2010, Robin Chauraysia founded the Kranti organization, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) specifically working to educate and empower girls who were born in Kamathipura, Mumbai’s red light district. Established by the British in the 1700s, Kamathipura is one of the world’s oldest and largest red light districts. Here, over 10,000 women from all over India and nearby countries, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, work as prostitutes. Most have been trafficked, sold by relatives or trapped by men who promised them a better life in Mumbai. New arrivals to Kamathipura are often kept captive and blackmailed into staying. These women become stuck in the industry, as other employers discriminate against working and former prostitutes, and will not even hire them for simple jobs such as cleaning.

Chauraysia’s goal in starting the Kranti organization was to give these girls the same opportunities and education as more fortunate children and help them grow up to become leaders. Due to the extra support most students require, as well as the need to serve differing education levels, Kranti exists outside of the formal school system. However, the girls are encouraged to attend formal schooling when they feel ready. All girls receive therapy upon entering Kranti, which incorporates both cognitive-based methods and more creative practices, such as art or dance-movement therapy. They also work on improving their relationships with their mothers, who they are often taught to be ashamed of because of their profession.

Eventually, girls begin attending classes in a wide range of subjects. All students practice meditation and journal writing every day. They also learn math, reading, music, current events and creative thinking. At the center of the Kranti curriculum are multiple social justice units, covering topics such as caste, class, religion, the environment, gender, sexuality and women’s rights. The girls learn about the roots of India’s most pervasive social justice issues and where progress needs to be made. They work on projects around these units and offer creative solutions to the problems presented. They are also required to choose one physical extracurricular, such as karate or kickboxing, and one artistic extracurricular like photography or painting.

“Kranti” is the Hindi word for “revolution,” and the girls are traveling the world to spread the stories of their own personal revolutions. Kranti takes three to five trips each year, some around India and some abroad, in order to connect with other NGOs and lead workshops. The girls also wrote a play titled “Lal Batti Express,” or “Red Light Express,” about their stories of struggling and surviving. The play focuses on their experiences with discrimination and dealing with the stigma of their background. They are currently touring across the United States, performing at theaters and schools in New York and Los Angeles, a jail in Washington, D.C. and a domestic violence support group in Chicago. Kranti is also working with the Utah-based nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad, which helps rescue children from sex slavery.

When it comes to getting an education, women in India often face obstacles. But as the girls who were given a second chance with Kranti spread their message of revolution, they prove that it is possible for children of any background to succeed with the right support.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: GOOD Magazine, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Kranti, KSL, NBC
Photo: The Guardian

Historically, the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan is notorious for its brutal oppression of women. Now, the Taliban has reportedly pledged its support for women’s rights.

The Taliban put forward this ‘softer stance’ on women’s issues at recent meetings with Afghan officials and activists in Qatar. Taliban representatives at the talks said that should they return to power, they would support not only women’s access to education, but also their right to work outside the home.

Many hope that these talks will lead to formal peace negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

After coming to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, the Taliban began a harsh crackdown on women’s rights. The group specifically targeted women’s education. Soon after taking over the Afghan capital, Kabul, in 1996, the Taliban closed the city’s women’s university and prohibited women from studying at Kabul University. In 1998, the Taliban banned all girls over the age of eight from attending school.

It is no secret that women’s education plays an integral part in a country’s economic and social development. It can both lift individual women and families out of poverty and increase an entire country’s GDP. Investing in girls’ education can also lower child and maternal mortality rates and reduce the likelihood of child marriages. By prohibiting women from attending schools and universities, the Taliban effectively ensured that Afghan women would lack the skills needed to participate in society and therefore sink deeper into poverty.

Though the Taliban fell from power in Afghanistan in 2001, its repressive views of women’s right to education are still widespread. In the years since, women have made only gradual progress toward reentering the educational system. World Bank reports show that as of 2014, 36 percent of Afghan girls attend school.

The three Afghan women who attended the talks in Qatar reported that they were pleased with the Taliban’s pledge to not roll back the progress Afghan women have made. Malalai Shinwari, a former Afghan member of parliament, said, “They said they won’t make the same mistakes that they made in the past. They said they would accept the rights we have today.”

However, many women’s activists remain skeptical about the Taliban’s statements. Shaharzad Akbar, a Kabul-based activist, revealed, “My worry is that the Taliban have a very different understanding of women’s right to education and political participation, and that it is based on their view that women are inherently inferior to men.”

Many delegates from the Qatar talks have expressed their surprise over the Taliban’s supposed willingness to compromise on both women’s rights and other political issues. However, whether the Taliban will follow through on its promises still remains to be seen.

Caitlin Harrison

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, BBC, Global Partnership, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Blogging for Barakat

“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. When you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” goes one African saying. Indeed, women are a rare sight in African schools, but they shouldn’t be: 90% of what a woman earns, she will reinvest in her community.

But while 60% of the education population should be women, it is a goal that is missed. Getting girls into these schools is difficult for a couple reasons. The first part of the problem is a shaky economy. The second is that the African continent has only recently been taking the needs of girls seriously.

Social customs illustrate how men are considered more valuable all across the continent. Women are expected to feed men first and give them the best food, and women are also expected to work menial jobs.

A glimpse into the life of girls in school can also demonstrate why women think hesitate to send their daughters to school. Girls who are barely teenagers often voice their fears of being sexually abused when they use the latrine. At a primary school in Enjolo Village, a “cleansing” initiation involves the teacher having sex with young girls. The man could be in his 40s and 50s while the girl could be as young as 10.

The practice caused an influx of young pregnancies and also spread AIDS at an alarming rate. A group of mothers were able to halt the tradition in Enjolo and now girls drink a glass of herbs but elsewhere, the sexual cleansing continues.

While it is not as horrifying as a sexual cleansing tradition, there is another problem that symbolizes the battle women wage in schools. In many areas of the continent, schools are not equipped with latrines or other sanitation that only girls need. They lack the basic facilities that would allow the girls to not miss days of school.

With all the problems barring girls from school, research suggests that the old African saying is true when it insists that it is worthwhile to be educating women.

Educating girls reduces the chances of teenage pregnancy, making them more likely to wait to get married. Education increases earning potential by astronomic figures and by extension improves the economy of the community. Areas with high percentages of educated women are consistently ranked as less dangerous.

There are health benefits as well. Educated women are three times less likely to contract HIV, and they are better informed about nutritional and sanitation habits to keep children healthy.

—Andrew Rywak

Sources: USAID Blog, New York Times USAID Blog 2, CNN
Photo: Flickr

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

The recent kidnapping of 300 Nigerian girls by the extremist group Boko Haram has sparked a global dialogue around the issue of women’s rights. Everyone seems to be wondering: why would an extremist group of alpha males feel so threatened by young, educated girls that they would be inclined to abduct nearly an entire village? The answer lies in the facts.

Around the world a vast portion of women are denied basic rights — that is access to education, jobs and health care — and are victims of sexual and physical abuse. According to USAID, 62 million girls are not in school. UNESCO’s latest statistics show that there are an estimated 862 million illiterate adults in the world, about two-thirds of whom are women.

The residual effects of an uneducated female population are far-reaching. There are social, political and economic consequences, there are health corollaries, but the common motivator seems to be to keep men in power.

USAID studies show that a girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS. An educated women re-invests 90 percent of the income in her family. A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5. Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care and ensure their children are immunized.

So, an educated female population would completely uproot a conservative, dictatorial society and act as a threat to terrorism. It is, therefore, entirely threatening to those men in positions of power. A literate woman does not simply read her children bedtime stories — she changes their conception of the world.

Various global efforts have been launched to ensure that women are granted access to education. Let Girls Learn is a new endeavor that provides the public with meaningful ways to help all girls receive a quality education. USAID has contributed $230 million in support of the cause and for new programs that promote universal education.

The United States government has intervened in the global arena as well. It has invested one billion per year through USAID in low-income countries to ensure equitable treatment of boys and girls, to establish safe school environments and to engage communities in support for girls’ education.

When delving into the facts, the answer seems clear. The prospect of an educated female population is extraordinarily threatening. Education is a fundamental tool and means for societal change. Thomas Staal, USAID’s deputy administrator, sees the issue plain and simple; education is essential in fighting poverty and its grim consequences — hunger, disease, resource degradation, exploitation and despair. And “women are the caretakers and economic catalysts in our communities. No country can afford to ignore their potential.”

– Samantha Scheetz

Sources: USAID 1, USAID 2, USAID 3, USAID 4, PBS
Photo: FT Magazine

A promising and efficient solution to solving global poverty involves educating women, and the nonprofit humanitarian organization CARE aims to do just that. Since its development in 1945, CARE has provided humanitarian and anti-poverty aid to over 97 million people around the globe.

CARE’s programs in the developing world address empowerment and education for women on topics such as economic development, gender equality and health. Education in such areas helps alleviate global poverty because it attacks the issue’s foundation. CARE seeks to expose and positively change the political, social and economic norms that sustain extreme poverty.

Empowering women is not only a moral obligation, but an economic boon. Countries that invest in education for girls and women tend historically to have lower poverty rates. The World Bank reports that every extra year of secondary schooling for girls can increase their future wages by up to 20 percent.

Educating women and girls contributes to the alleviation of poverty in a variety of ways. First, educated women are more likely to marry later and have fewer and healthier children. They can subsequently focus more attention and expenditures on each child. Second, they are aware of their rights and possess the self-confidence to claim them. Third, they are better able to maintain a stable position in the workforce. Lastly, educated women are more likely than men to allocate resources to their children and families.

Yet despite its benefits, education for women is often subpar. CARE reports: “In more than 20 developing nations, illiteracy rates among women exceed 70 percent.” This constitutes a vicious cycle. A lack of education prevents women from rising out of poverty, but poverty also prevents a large percentage of girls and women from attaining secondary education.

Globally, this gender disparity in education remains a firmly established problem. It is neither morally nor economically sound to undermine half of the world’s workforce. In fact, promoting gender equality in an effort to fight global poverty is one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.

Therefore, although CARE focuses primarily on girls and women, the organization also attempts to dismantle the social norms of inequity throughout communities. Through education and anti-poverty projects, women gain self-respect and self-reliance. CARE reports that when men witness such transformations in their wives or daughters, they tend to reevaluate their negative perceptions of women.

CARE demonstrates that women’s empowerment is key in the fight against extreme global poverty. When women earn their own income, they lay the foundations for healthier and more educated future generations.

Due to the efforts and achievements of organizations like CARE, foreign aid is increasingly being targeted at women and girls. There is growing recognition that education for women may be one of the most effective ways to combat global poverty.

— Mari LeGagnoux

Sources: CARE, United Nations, UNFPA, World Bank
Photo: Allianz

South Africa has a complex history when it comes to race. The apartheid that persisted for much of the 20th century and ended in 1994 caused huge international scrutiny and debate. Since the end of apartheid, how have the black communities fared in terms of mending the years of damage this event caused? A look at one of the most disadvantaged groups in South African society, the black woman, will help us understand if South Africa has progressed.  

The most recent study by the Department of Labor in South Africa was conducted in 2011. The report shows that only 31 percent of black women in South Africa were employed, which was the lowest number for all groups. Compare this to the most advantaged group, white males, at 73 percent employment. It should be noted that all other categories — black men, white women and Indian/Asian — all had higher employment than black women in South Africa. However, only the extremes between the most advantaged group and the most disadvantaged group will be compared in this case to exemplify the shocking disparity.

Looking at the rest of the numbers, we see that 14 percent of black women were unemployed, which means they did not work the week before the survey was taken but they were actively looking for work. To be fair, 14 percent unemployment does not seem relatively high, but there is another number to account for the rest of the women. Forty-five percent of black women were considered not economically active (NEA). This category includes discouraged work seekers who were not employed during the week of the survey, but wanted to work and could not find work due to a lack of available jobs or lost hope of finding work. Compare that to 4 percent unemployed white males and 23 percent of white males as NEA.

These numbers show a glaring disparity that exists in the labor market between black women and white males. Apartheid supposedly ended two decades ago, so why does this inequality still exist? One of the main reasons is education. A lack of education and usable skills are characteristic of the chronically unemployed and, conversely, those with a tertiary degree have the lowest rate of unemployment.  

In South Africa “the large majority of black students come from low-income families that do not have the financial resources to support the pursuit of higher education.” About 9 percent of black women in South Africa advance to schooling past grade 12, compared to 40 percent of white males. However, a 2013 report from the county’s Council on Higher Education (CHE) states that the university dropout rate for black students is over 50 percent. From this we can estimate that only 4.5 percent of black women even receive a university degree. Clearly, black women are not being given easy access to higher education and are therefore suffering in the job market. 

If there is low unemployment amongst people who have tertiary degrees, it would seem that the South African government needs to spend more time and money on making higher education available to lower-income individuals like black women. Higher levels of university graduates will help the South African society and economy grow in numerous ways. Reversing racism and, in this case, also sexism, is of course quite a difficult task. With such obvious structural racist and sexist disparities between white males and black females in South Africa, it is clear the country has not progressed enough. We can only hope that those working hard to change this unfair situation have success in the near future.  

— Eleni Marino

Sources: CHE, SA News, South African DOL, Statistics South Africa, The Guardian
Photo: Jaunt to Joberg

In recent days, U.S. Senator Ed Royce (CA-R) announced that on April 3 the Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Women’s education in violence prone countries and how it can promote the creation of economic opportunities and counter radicalism. The hearing will count with the presence of three experts on women’s education. In the words of Royce, the aim of the hearing is to assess “how a failure to appreciate its importance can result in missed opportunities for development and counter-radicalism.”

In the last three decades education opportunities have been greatly expanded, yet women are still at a disadvantage. The difference in countries like Pakistan can be as much as 30 points. While 70 percent of men over 15 years of age are considered literate, for women this only reaches 40 percent. In Afghanistan, this difference is even more astonishing where only 13 percent of women can read and write.

According to Royce, the hearing will reinforce the correlation between women and girl’s education and the promotion of economic growth, childhood development and an increase in life expectancy overall. There is strong evidence that connects women’s education and an increase in a country’s GDP. As women enter the labor force they increase the earning potential of their family. Moreover, as women tend to spend their income on children more than men, this helps increase a child’s survival more than twenty times than families supported only by men.

Pakistan is of special interest, which is why, after the hearing, the committee will move on to considering the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act (H.R. 3583). In honor of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Malala Yousafzai, this bill would require that 50 percent of the scholarships awarded under it be given to Pakistani women.

This comes at the same time when private donors have pledged to donate 1 billion to Pakistan for the support of educational programs over the next three years. According the former prime minister and now UN special envoy for education Gordon Brown, the goal is to provide education to 55 million Pakistanis over the age of ten who are considered illiterate. Pakistan’s government also wants to dedicate more resources to education in order to eventually achieve universal education. This is good news for women and girls in Pakistan, since one of the major goals of the pledge is to get a step closer to the eradication of child marriage, child labor, and gender discrimination.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Brown, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Photo: Glamour

On Oct. 21, George Washington University revealed that some of its faculty members are creating multimedia curriculum tools to supplement a book recently published by Malala Yousafzai. The 16 year-old Pakistani teenager targeted for assassination by the Taliban because of her advocacy about girls’ education has inspired the development of a new school curriculum that highlights the encouragement of advocacy.

Completely free of charge, the program will focus on themes such as the importance of women’s voices and political extremism. These tools won’t solely focus on Yousafzai’s story, but also how the same issues, such a child marriage and pressures to leave school, are reflected elsewhere. “It’s going to be really interactive and really encourage students to do … activities outside of school, it will encourage them to get engaged in the communities and as well to help the Malala Fund directly,” said Mary Ellsber, director of the university’s Global Woman’s Institute.

In 2012, a Taliban gunman walked up to a bus that was taking Yousafzai and other children home from school. He proceeded to shoot her in the head and neck and wound another student as well.

Nowadays, Yousafzai claims that she is more afraid of ghosts than she is of the Taliban. “They are afraid of us. They are afraid of women. A woman is powerful but when she gets education she becomes more powerful. They do not want women to take part in society, in the development of a society. They think that the only job of women is to cook food, to serve the family, to give birth to children, to feed them,” she said.

In her memoir, I Am Malala, she highlights the incidents of her life as a woman in Pakistan. She has an ambition to lead her country, and hopes one day to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. She has already been in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The new school curriculum represents an amazing step forward in educating students in the United States, who are so privileged in their ability to gain education, about the struggles women face in terror-stricken countries. By bringing this perspective to universities across the world, it begins a campaign to fight for education for all.

– Sonia Aviv

Sources: Inquirer News, ABC News, Times of India


Malala Yousafzai Facts


Passionate young women from across the globe are leading The Day of the Girl, an international campaign that fights for gender equality and girls’ rights worldwide. The Day of the Girl recognizes that girls are often treated with neglect and condescension in many spheres of life. The campaign’s mission is to increase opportunities for young girls through education and technology, and to help girls realize their full potential and become more engaged in their communities.Some of the specific issues that The Day of the Girl seeks to address include: sex trafficking, negative media portrayals, relationship abuse, female mutilation and gender equality in work, sports and education. In response to these issues, The Day of the Girl invites girls from around the world to join them in its campaign.As part of The Day of the Girl campaign, girls are encouraged to get involved in their schools and communities, where they will be in the position to voice their opinion. The campaign also advocates for “girlcotting,” a creative and empowering way for girls to express their power as consumers by saying “no” to corporations that perpetuate the denigration of women. Sisterhood and sharing are both important campaign concepts.One of the greatest achievements that the campaign has attained is the official UN recognition of the International Day of the Girl. In 2011, the international organization announced that October 11th would henceforth be recognized as a day to consider the challenges faced by girls, and to focus the world’s attention on empowering and advancing opportunities for girls.This year’s theme is centered around innovating education for girls. The Day of the Girl campaign and other supporters have recognized that school is a critical time for girls to learn information that will not only benefit them, but also result in social improvements, like poverty reduction and democratization.  The campaign will be joined by Hollywood star, Freida Pinto, best known for her performances in “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Planet of the Apes.” Pinto will accompany a number of female students from across the world to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child in New York. The event will focus on promoting access to education for all girls, along with addressing technologies and innovations that will help mobilize the community of girlhood.- Chante Owens

Sources: Day of The Girl, Look To The Stars