The Importance of Empowerment

A hot topic surrounding girl’s education and one that has been touched on in this blog before is empowering girls. Stories about the Doodle4Google depicting women empowerment in India and the encouraging word of Miss North Carolina touting girls’ empowerment float around the web and social media.


While these individual acts are noteworthy, an article about empowering girls was released  this week that is even more so.  The article opens with these words that I could not help but copying:

There is a Chinese proverb that says if your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years educate children.

These eloquent words were spoken by a 15 year old university student Maud Chifamba. I could not have said it so nice had I tried.

The article goes on to talk about Zimbabwe’s progress in closing the gender gap by 2015 to reach the Millennium Development Goals, a topic Dave covered a few weeks ago in his article, “’The Economist’ Discovers Gender Inequality in Education.” The Zimbabwe government realizes that it is far from reaching its goal so it created an empowerment policy, which addresses the challenges many girls within Zimbabwe face, such as education, economic empowerment, protection, leadership, and development.

While most article I’ve read focus on the importance of primary or pre-primary education, this one focuses on tertiary education, an area that I find too often ignored.  And though I find myself agreeing with the article, one statement that Childline ambassador Thamsanqa Moyo makes about foreign music and film’s influence.  She says, “It is unfortunate that most youths have access to bad foreign music and films they download from the internet which makes them develop a negative culture.” She goes on to say that the government should promote local music, which is something I can agree with, is it fair to blame the outside culture for the problems within a culture.  Does the hip-hop music make them develop a negative culture? I think not, and while many of the lyrics disgust me, I would not go so far as to say that they are the agents of this negative culture surrounding women.  Society itself is to blame in most cases.

Later in the article, a child writer and poet describes what needs to change within Zimbabwe’s culture, not what they are importing from abroad.  Women need to be viewed as adults who are able to take care of themselves, not as children who need to be subjected by male dominance.  The environment that girls grow up in needs to change.  Girls need to be given the same opportunities as men and be seen as capable human beings who are valued in society for their possible contributions.  It is the climate of society within Zimbabwe, which obviously can relate to the misogynistic lyrics of many hip-hop songs, that needs to change.

I would like to end my last post with some pictures that were published by an all girls school in Kentucky entitled “You are not a Princess” to empower their girls.  Though they take a much different approach, one that many countries is not ready for, they are right on point in a sense that they say that girls need to be the agent of their own change and empowerment.  In a world full of Disney Princesses, the posters read:



The fact that these are being published by a school makes them all the better.  More schools need to embrace a progressive view such as this in our fight to empower women.

Sources used:

Bwanya, M. (2013, November 15). AllAfrica. Zimbabwe: Empowering Girls At All Costs (Page 1 of 3). Retrieved November 15, 2013, from

Cullers, R. (2013). Intriguing Ads Tell Young Girls: ‘You’re Not a Princess’ and ‘Life’s Not a Fairytale’ | Adweek. AdWeek. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from

Fisher, H. (2013, November 14). Miss North Carolina offers message of empowerment to girls at North Rowan Middle. Salisbury Post. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from

Kanal, N. (2013, November 14). Pune girl’s women empowerment doodle on Google India today. Tech2. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from


More Money for Maternal Health

Dave reported a few weeks ago about Tanzania and Uganda’s vastly different responses to teen pregnancy and the countries’ slow progress towards the 5th Millennium Development Goal. Apparently they are not the only countries projected to miss the goal, and the development world has taken notice (none too soon, I may add).

After a trip through the Sahel region of Africa (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal), the UN and World Bank pledged $200 million over the next two years to improving maternal and child health programs, according to both the UN News Centre and The World Bank’s website.  Initiated as a response to Niger’s “Call to Action,” the money will go to funding the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project, which works to raise the age of marriage, keep girls in school and enable women to choose the amount of children they want and when they want to have them.

The money is coming after the UNFPA released the State of World Population 2013 report, which found that out of 7.3 million births 2 million were from girls under the age of 14 and 70,000 girls from developing countries die each year as a result of complications from child birth, according to another article from the UN News Centre. The best thing to come from the report is the realization that the girl is not the only one to blame in the case of teen pregnancy. UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin is quoted as saying:

“Too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant. The reality is that adolescent pregnancy is most often not the result of deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond the girl’s control. It is the consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care.”

I see this investment by the World Bank and the UN as a good first step so long as the money is not solely used to buy and distribute condoms or run a class for sexual health, as has been done in the past.  Not that these initiatives are completely useless, but a combination of education and economic opportunity needs to be presented to these girls so they know how to prevent pregnancy and know that other alternatives are out there for their future.  And it must not be solely focused on the girl. While her education is imperative, the attitudes within the society must be addressed as well.  The society must view girls as potentially productive members and must value that potential so that girls are encouraged to stay in school, young mothers have support systems and girls have access to reproductive health information.

The article goes on to state economic reasons for countries to invest in preventing pregnancy in young girls.  In a country like Kenya, the UNFPA estimates that if the 200,000 teen moms were employed instead of getting pregnant, the country would earn an extra $3.4 billion.  While this plays to the human capitalist inside of me (as shown by last week’s post about the MDGs and human capital), the statistic seems a bit pessimistic.  Just because a woman has a baby at a young age (or what the west considers a young age) does not mean that she will not become a productive member of society, as defined in economic terms.  Yes, the odds are against her and yes, statistics do show that most teen moms do not go on to finish schooling but this says to me that their potential has been wasted and that may not be true.  Yet again, girls need to be educated on these issues and societal views need to change so that girls can reach their full potential, even if that does mean still choosing to have a young family.

Pledging $200 million to empowering women is a fete since previously the global community only gives two cents out of every dollar spent on development to adolescent girls. Whether this is enough to change the attitude of the societies towards valuing women, we will have to wait and see.

Sources used:

‘Motherhood in childhood,’ new UN report, spotlights adolescent pregnancy. (2013, October 30). UN News Center. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from’pullme’%3EIt%20has%20become%20increasingly%20clear%20that%20disasters%20are%20setting%20back%20efforts%20in%20development%20–%20they%20can%20cripple%20the%20econo

The World Bank. (2013, November 6).UN, World Bank Support ‘Call to Action’ for Women’s Health, Girls’ Education in the Sahel. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from

UN, World Bank boost support for women’s health, girls’ education in Africa’s Sahel. (2013, November 6). UN News Center. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from’pullme’%3EIt%20has%20become%20increasingly%20clear%20that%20disasters%20are%20setting%20back%20efforts%20in%20development%20–%20they%20can%20cripple%20the%20economy,%20destroy%20infrastructure,%20and%20plunge%20more%20people%20into%20poverty%3C/span%3E://


Achieving the MDGs through Human Capital

As Laura’s post previously mentioned, 2015 is approaching and that means the supposed end of the Millennium Development Goals. As the end closes in and the prospects of achieving the goals gets gloomier, people are scrambling to find solutions. This week The Economist put out an article taking a human capitalist approach to discovering why gender disparity lingers in Africa based off of a study done in Uganda (not all of Africa).  Currently, according to the article, agencies like the UN are funneling money into girls’ education with little results; girls are still underrepresented in schools. The solution, determined by comparing the amount of rainfall to girls’ attendance rates in schools in Uganda, is to boost the household income because when there is less rainfall there is less income and girls are taken out of school to supplement the family’s income. Stated differently, we need to end sexual inequality. Since boys’ education is deemed more important on the basis of future rewards, they stay in school while the girls are removed.  If inclined to do so, you can find the original research study by Martina Bjorkman-Nqvist here.

This article really resonates with me because of the practicality that comes with using human capital theory in the field of development.  Human capital necessitates that we invest in the future of children through education (in this case girls) in order for a nation to subsequently develop. While it makes sense to adopt an economic viewpoint when creating development plans, initiatives for financing schools have not been enough and we will not meet the goal of ending gender disparity in education.  Therefore, new innovative ideas about how to close the gender gap need to be formed and researched, and that is exactly what Bjorkman-Nqvist is doing.  She suggests that we find ways to boost family income so there is no reason to take girls out of school. While this may prove to not be the answer, it is a step in the right direction. After all, we cannot do the same thing over and over expecting different results.

With that being said, I have to take issue with one aspect of the article.  While speaking about how the Millennium Development Goals are failing, the article says, “Although places like China, Bangladesh and Indonesia look likely to achieve the target, Africa, in particular, will not.” This article uses a study conducted in Uganda to justify plans for the rest of Africa. Africa is not a country like China, Bangladesh, or Indonesia, and therefore, cannot be compared to a country.  It is a continent with 54 countries, all of which are rooted in different cultures and histories.  While this may be very un-human capitalist of me, we need to take into consideration these differences when developing plans aimed at economic development.  What works for one country may not work for another and, similarly, what is true about one may not be true about the other.  While girls are taken out of school to supplement the family incomes in a time of drought in Uganda, the situation may be different in Togo or Eritrea.

Considering the source, a newspaper that predominantly focuses on economics, as the name The Economist suggests, it is unsurprising that culture was forgotten about.  But that does not excuse Africa being compared with countries.  It is a mistake too often made, and one that frankly needs to end for progress to be made. These economically based plans will only be useful if applied to each economy in a way that makes sense for that country. A plan cannot be made for an entire continent.  I am not suggesting that the study is useless; as I stated above, I like it. I am just warning that it cannot be applied  blindly and expect results.

Sources used:

The Economics of Sexual Inequality: When Education Dries Up. (2013, November 2). The Economist. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from

The Truth About Girls & Science

As I was perusing the Internet looking for an article about girls’ education abroad, I stumbled upon an article about 9th grade girls creating electric desks.  The desks are powered by the foot shaking of the students.  As a perpetual foot shaker, I thought to myself, “What a great idea!” Not only will the desks be useful, as they’re sending them to Tanzania and South Africa with funds from Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams Program, but they’re getting the girls to be interested in working in science, and for a good cause; the schools they will be sent to currently run without electricity.

With all of the attention on girls’ education, it is important that we do not forget that the girls in the United States need help too; they are lagging behind in science professions.  The  story about the girls who made the electric desks made me research girls’ education in STEM subjects here.  According to the National Girl’s Collaborative Project (NGCP), which strives to get girls connected to STEM projects, girls receive the majority of Bachelor’s degrees (57.3%) in 2009, but they are not  proportionally represented in the STEM professions.

Why is this? Why do women earn more degrees than men but much less in science, math, technology and engineering? From my experience, it’s in our culture.  The article mentioned above about the electrical desks would not have been such a big feat had it been done by boys. This is evident in the title “Girl power!…” Girls are not expected to do as well in sciences and math, and so when they do something, it is considered exceptional and news worthy. Had the same project been undertaken by boys, it would still be lauded but it would not be linked to sex; the article would not read “Boy power!” To most this would sound ludicrous; boys already have the power, there would be no reason to point it out. Only in a culture like ours, where girls are expected to be good at subjects like reading and writing, would it matter what sex completed the project.  Despite expectations though, girls, according to NGCP, are more likely to take precalculus, and though their is evidence to lower test scores in the science, this is linked more to socioeconomic status/race than it is to just sex.

Growing up as an average American girl, in the suburbs of New Jersey, science was never a priority.  My struggles began in the 3rd grade when I could not for the life of me understand inertia, even after a hand on demonstration in which my mom went over the handle bars of her bike.  But that did not mean I was not curious; I had dreams of becoming an ocean biologist after a trip to the Jersey shore  introduced me to the diversity of sea creatures.  As I went on in school, though, I was not encouraged to study science or math. I was often told my strong subjects were in the humanities and thats what I ended up studying, a “subject for girls” I was often told.

In order for our own nation to move forward, girl’s scientific capabilities need to be developed.  The only way to do so is to fight the stereotype that women are not good at math or science.  While I was on the hunt for information about girls’ science education, I came across this article in Live Science debunking the myths about girls and science.  6 myths are explained and the truth is exposed regarding girls and science but I would like to point out a few based on my own experience. Myth #1 is that girls are not interested in science.  While this is obviously very wrong, I found it interesting that as early as second grade both boys and girls draw WHITE MEN when asked to depict a scientist.  The women that were drawn are angry. Though I knew this to be true from my experience, I was a little shocked at just how young it appeared.  Similarly, Myth #6 says that its innate; women are born disadvantaged and therefore choose other careers. People who uphold this view cite men’s superior spatial abilities. Studies show that in cultures where women dominate this phenomena is reversed.  Both are cultural; both can and need to be reversed.

In a world that is saturated with news regarding girls’ education abroad, it is important not to forget those at home. Cultural biases leave girls lagging in the STEM professions. The girls who created the electric desks are a great example of what girls are capable of if they are in an encouraging environment.  The myths about girls and science need to be more than debunked, the truth needs to become the standard.


Roach, J. (2013, October 23). Girl power! 9th grade girls developing electricity-generating desks. NBC News. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from

About NGCP. (n.d.). National Girls Collaborative Project |. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from

6 Myths About Girls and Science. (2013, October 21). Retrieved October 27, 2013, from

A Donation in the Name of the Day of the Girl

This week, according to an article found in the Khaleej Times,  Dubai Cares, a non-profit organization whose goal is to break the cycle of poverty through primary education, pledged Dh22 million (approximately 6 million USD) to girls’ education in the Philippines, South Sudan, and Mozambique. The money will go to improving school infrastructure, create new classrooms, and more teachers.  Working with Plan International Canada, the funds will be distributed over 4 years to local NGOs that work to reduce barriers to education.

This donation is given in support of the International Day of the Girl, a UN recognized day, celebrated October 11.  Though a great cause, one must question Dubai Cares’ motivation.  When speaking on the issue, CEO of Dubai Cares, Tariq Al Guru, says:

“This is one of the gifts from Dubai to the world. As future mothers and wives, who will play an integral role in nurturing and raising families, these girls hold the key to a future generation of educated and enlightened children.”

And though it is true that girls are a crucial part of the future and should be treated as such, why does he refer to the girls as future mothers and wives? Why are they not called the future scientists or political leaders? Are the intentions of the organization to educate the future mothers who will then in turn educate their sons? More emphasis should be placed on what the girls can come to be besides just mothers and wives.  Don’t get me wrong, being a mother or wife is a very important job and one that should not be looked down upon, but for these girls it is important to break cultural barriers and tell them that there is other roles open to them.  They are not restricted to the conventional, traditional role of being a mother.  If in the end they still choose to be mothers or wives, than that is great, but the choices must be out in the open.

The article goes on to name some of the common practices in countries with low literacy and poor access to schools, including: forced marriage, sexual exploitation, and gender discrimination.  NGOs must look deeply into the root causes of these injustices and what works to perpetuate them. Education cannot be seen as the panacea for these problems.  If more money is spent to improve access to girls’ education, these problems will not just disappear.  More needs to be done to make sure that as a community forced marriage, sexual exploitation, and gender discrimination are no longer acceptable.


Shabandri, M. (2013, October 9). Dh22 million pledged for girls’ education.Khaleej Times. Retrieved October 15, 2013, from

Fighting for Girls’ Education in Malawi

In Malawi,  Muslim leaders are fighting for the right to girls’ education stemming from recent reports of high drop out rates for girls.  Blaming “societal and cultural norms” for the unequal education girls receive in Malawi, Sheikh Denala Chabulika, National Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau, explicably states that there is nothing in Islam that prevents girls from going to school.  People are simply hiding behind religion to justify the discrimination in schooling practices.   In order to combat such long standing cultural views, Muslim leaders from the Islamic Information Bureau has stared a dive to educate girls and do so by offering scholarships.  Activists are quite pleased with the action, calling it a “landmark” in the pursuit of achieving the Education For All goal.

This seems like a great first step for not only a nation that has a large population out of school but for any nation where girls struggle to attain equal footing in education.  The importance of using leaders who are respected in the community is undeniable but is this enough to change long-standing beliefs? Sheikh Chabulika is quoted as saying:

“The danger is that if we don’t rise up and take the challenge to address this trend, it would eventually be universally accepted that the teachings of Islam prevent girls from accessing education.”

And even if the people come to realize that in Islam there are no restrictions for equal education for boys and girls, there are plenty of other cultural reasons people could cite as reasons to keep their girls home.  Are these issues being addressed? For girls to want to be educated and for a society to embrace education, it is important that they not only address the barriers, like education and culture, but they also address the benefits of sending the girls to school. If the benefits lay unaddressed, they may be sent to school for a short while, but it seems that they’ll be take right out again as soon as something else, like the birth of another child, comes up. People need to be shown that educating girls will have long standing affects for the community and family.

The article states that a lack of role models for the girls is a reason behind the high drop out rates, where parents feel as though it is a waste of resources to send their female children to school. Obviously Sheikh Chabulika realizes that the girls lack strong female role models, but what is he doing to rectify this situation? The article says he’s sending out cultural leaders to the communities in order to make the change but are any of these people women? In an inspirational article in the UK’s Daily Mail, a photographer dressed her daughter up as heroines  instead of the usual Disney princesses to introduce her at a young age to strong role models.  Though the idea would have to be culturally relevant, Malawi can do similar creative ways to give girls the role models that they need. If they are given scholarships, what is to keep them from dropping out again if they still have no example of what it means to be a strong woman?

Finally, it makes me wonder if other nations will follow suit.  In an area plagued by inequality, hopefully other nations will take notice and make similar changes.  We’ll just have to watch and see.


Abubaker, K. (n.d.). Malawi Muslims Champion Girls’ Educations. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from