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