Sexual inequality: not just a Third World concept

If you read the news (or our blog) you understand that girls around the world are consistently denied educational opportunities, be it by their parents, their government, or the simple yet complicated aspect of “access.” A recent article by the economist, also covered by Dave, refers to education for girls in a pragmatic voice, arguing that uneducated girls are a waste of human capital, yet current initiatives to keep girls in school are not enough. Setting global goals and funding education for female students doesn’t change discriminatory perceptions of girls, particularly in the most traditional of societies.

This news article examines a recent journal article in the Journal of Development Economics, which discusses the impact of droughts on female attendance in Uganda. The author, Martina Björkman-Nyqvist, discovered that when there was a reduction in rainfall by 15%, 5% of girls enrolled in the seventh grade did not go to school. This information was consistent over a period of 24 years. But the question is “why?”

Because many traditional societies, particularly in Africa, have an agricultural-based income, family incomes decrease significantly in times of drought. Families need more income, so they pull girls out of school. But why girls and not boys? The Economist says it best: boys are kept in school because “education produces greater rewards for them in the job market than it does for girls.” In other words, boys will be paid more than girls for the same amount of education, completing the same job. The Economist recommends finding a way to supplement household incomes during times of drought and other times of low agricultural productivity in order to keep girls in school.

Within the past day, the news has been bombarded with stories about COAG (the Council of Australian Governments) and its first ever report on the progress for females in Australia. In a shocking turn of events, Australian girls tend to outperform boys in school, and more Australian women than men hold a bachelor degree. Men, however, dominate the job market in terms of pay and management/leadership positions. No matter how educated a woman is, bosses tend to hire more men. From a budgeting standpoint, this baffles me, because men are also paid more to do the same job as women. Wouldn’t they prefer to hire women?

This is unfortunate proof for The Economist’s article. Australia, a generally contemporary society and one of the top world powers, has not yet been able to overcome the gender gap. Why, then, should countries such as Uganda be convinced to invest in their girls, when their boys will earn more money and be more capable to help support the family? This proves female education is a global issue. Until there is proof that women can be equally as successful as men in the job market, it is likely boys’ education will continue to be valued more than girls’.

Tovey, J. (2013, November 20). COAG report: girls ahead at school but women lag in pay stakes. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/coag-report-girls-ahead-at-school-but-women-lag-in-pay-stakes-20131119-2xt8x.html.

The economics of sexual inequality. (2013, November 2). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21588927-new-research-hints-better-method-ensure-girls-africa-stay-school-when.

Björkman-Nyqvist, M. (2013). Income shocks and gender gaps in education: Evidence from Uganda. Journal of Development Economics, 105, 237-253. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304387813001120.

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Yemen ranks 136th out of 136 countries for gender parity

Recently I wrote about Costa Rica and its position in the 2013 Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). While Costa Rican officials have acknowledged the truth behind their low score in female economic participation and have addressed the ways in which they plan to resolve this situation, Yemeni leaders have failed to recognize and address their position year after year.

Since the Index was established in 2006, Yemen has consistently placed last among all ranked nations. This year, Yemen placed 136th out of 136 nations in gender equality in terms of economic participation/opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. As the Index has expanded, beginning with 115 countries and growing to 136 countries within seven years, Yemen has been pushed further down the list and has unfailingly come in last place.

According to Samar Qaed and the Yemen Times, 86 countries have reduced their gender gaps for political participation since last year’s Index was released. This is one of the weakest areas of women’s rights in Yemen. As many of you may know, Yemen experienced an uprising in 2011 as an extension to the Arab Spring, though Yemen’s revolution was less publicized in the Western world due to its peaceful nature. The revolution began as a protest against unemployment, the poor economy, and political corruption, and as months progressed, thousands of Yemeni women risked protesting in the streets in hopes of political reform and gaining equal rights in every aspect. Apparently, as reflected in Yemen’s ranking again this year, these efforts had little-to-no effect on laws or the political system in general.

HOWEVER, upon closer reflection, Yemen does not actually place last in any of the four categories used in the Index ranking system! It ranks 131st in terms of the gender gap for economic participation and opportunity, 134th for the educational attainment gap, 81st for health and survival, and 131st for political empowerment. How, then, has the WEF determined that Yemen belongs in last place?

Short statistics lesson: (If you have no interest and wish to take the WEF’s Index at face value, skip to the following paragraph.) Apparently, a statistically complex system is implemented during which sub-indices within each of the four categories are weighted based on variation and standard deviation, and then the four scores from the sub-indices are averaged. This makes sense. While Yemen’s gender parity statistics for health and educational attainment were 97.27% and 69.8%, respectively, its parity percentages for economic participation and political empowerment were 35.77% and 2.27%, respectively. An average of these four measures of parity probability gives us Yemen’s overall parity score of 51.28%, which is the lowest overall score out of all 136 nations represented.

Writer and journalist Naderah Abdulqadus explains that the gender gap expanded after the Yemeni unification in 1990. She says that, in South Yemen, there were laws guaranteeing women’s social rights, which protected girls from child marriages, teenage pregnancy, and (indirectly) low educational attainment. These laws were annulled upon unification with North Yemen. Additionally, Amal Al-Makhdi, National Dialogue Conference (NDC) representative for the Houthi political wing, asserts that women in rural areas are still unpaid for the work they do, giving them no incentive to stay in school.

If I have learned anything within recent months here at UPenn, it is that educational attainment is the foundation for all growth. Education leads to greater career opportunity, which leads to higher economic participation. Education gives citizens incentive to vote because they are able to understand the issues and the platforms, and they are interested in bettering their nation. Additionally, education has been proven on numerous occasions to lead to better health and survival outcomes due to knowledge about nutrition, disease, pregnancy, and childbirth. It seems that provision of education infrastructure, as Al-Makhadi suggests, could lead to increased gender parity. Now the question is: Is that what the Yemeni government wants?

Qaed, S. (2013, November 12). Palpable disparity: ‘Opportunities afforded to women are not many’. Yemen Times. Retrieved from http://www.yementimes.com/en/1728/report/3120/Palpable-disparity-%E2%80%98Opportunities-afforded-to-women-are-not-many%E2%80%99.htm.

Education doesn’t cause economic empowerment

Each year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes a Global Gender Gap Index, which ranks 136 participating countries based on gender-based disparities. Such disparities, including those within the educational, political, economic, and health sectors, are compared across nations, income groups, and regions over time, thereby creating a system with which to rank nations on their progress and overall magnitude of gender disparity.

In case you are wondering, the United States has dropped in its ranking over the past three years from having the 17th smallest gender gap to the 22nd smallest and, this year, the 23rd smallest gender gap out of 136 countries.

Since this year’s report was released on October 25, Costa Rica has commented on its position. Interestingly, Costa Rica’s gap has rested at approximately 72% for the past four years, but its position in the report has jumped from 28th to 25th to 29th to, this year, 31st. This inconsistency is due to countries such as Nicaragua, Austria, and Bolivia, which have made significant strides in closing their gender gaps.

Over the past 13 years since WEF began publishing its report, “Costa Rica has closed its gender gap by 15 percent,” according to Lindsay Fendt and the Tico Times. She claims that, while Costa Rican women have significantly improved in terms of educational attainment, political empowerment, and health, women have not expanded into the workforce and their participation in economic affairs has not progressed.

This is an important example of an instance in which the Human Capital Theory does not apply in practice. In fact, Costa Rica has 100% gender parity in educational attainment, placing it as one of the 25 countries ranked 1st in this category. Proving its weakness, Costa Rica only has 60% parity in economic participation and opportunity, causing it to place 98th out of 136 countries in terms of participation in economic affairs, the male-female income ratio, and the male-female ratio of legislators, managers, and professional workers.

This is crazy! To see that Costa Rican women and men have equal educational attainment at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education paints an entirely different picture about women’s economic status than the country has actually achieved.

According to the Minister of Women’s Affairs in Costa Rica, businesses prefer to hire men to fill positions offering the highest salaries. While this plays a large role in the oppression of women’s economic status, there are also traditional cultural expectations within the country that place the “caretaker” role primarily on women.

The minister, María Chamorro, proves her expertise in educational and cultural arenas by suggesting that the only way for this statistic to change is via a cultural and familial change in perspective about the role of caretaking. Only when the culture recognizes that caretaking is a familial responsibility, and not only a female responsibility, can women be granted the physical and mental freedom to apply for jobs and participate in a competitive market. I think it is fascinating that she mentioned this. It is a very modern perspective, and it is encouraging to see that she understands the implications of such a tradition. As a country, however, Costa Rica seems to be at an impasse. Until more people recognize the potential gains and step out of their traditional gender and familial roles, progress in the category of economic participation will never be achieved.

Fendt, L. (2013, November 4). Costa Rican women among the best educated, but least economically empowered, new index says. The Tico Times. Retrieved from http://www.ticotimes.net/More-news/News-Briefs/Costa-Rican-women-among-the-best-educated-but-least-economically-empowered-new-index-says_Monday-November-04-2013.

Lack of boarding facilities leads to low girls’ education

Several weeks ago, Amy covered the topic of girls’ education in Malawi here on Ed4Girls. Another article has since been published about boarding facilities and their role in drop-out rates. Evance Chisiano, writer for the Malawi News Agency, begins this article with the all-encompassing statement, “South East Education Division (SEED) has attributed poor academic performance among girls to inadequate boarding facilities and long distances to school.”

Where shall I begin? SEED. We will start with SEED. What is it? What does it encompass? Why do they have the authority to determine what is causing poor academic performance amongst girls? Which leads me to my second point: WHICH girls? The title of the article suggests Chisiano is speaking only about the district of Machinga, but the article doesn’t specify.

Chisiano then reports that McGregory Alufandika, SEED manager, claims many girls do not participate in higher education because of socio-economic and infrastructural factors. Whoa. I thought she just said they don’t participate due to “inadequate boarding facilities and long distances to school”? What changed in three paragraphs? I will theorize that the “infrastructural factors” mentioned refer to the inaccessibility to/a lack of boarding facilities; I will also assume that, due to low family income (the “socio-economic factors”), girls either cannot find boarding facilities or they cannot afford to board themselves near their schools. This must be where the distance factor comes in, as mentioned in Chisiano’s initial statement.

Finally, Chisiano gives insight as to what SEED encompasses: the districts of Zomba, Machinga, Balaka, and Mangochi.  Now I am very confused about what I am reading. I had assumed, being written in Machinga, that she was only speaking about Machinga, but perhaps she is writing about the entire Division. The title specifically refers to girls’ education in Machinga, but with the main source being from SEED I would postulate that this evidence can be applied to all four districts in the South East Education Division.

Chisiano then briefly mentions that the dropout rate is higher in these districts due to early marriages and pregnancies. Ok, lady. Pick one. So far we have been told that girls do not attend high school:

  1. because there are inadequate boarding facilities.
  2. because there are long distances between home and school.
  3. because of socio-economic factors.
  4. because of infrastructural factors.
  5. due to early marriage.
  6. due to pregnancy.

Coming from the Malawi News Agency, I would expect the facts to be simple and straightforward. We now have six reasons why girls do not participate in higher education, blossoming from the original two. Since all of these are valid causes leading to high female dropout rates, it seems the article should have a different title. It isn’t only the lack of boarding schools leading to low girls’ education, but all six of the factors listed above – and possibly more.

At this point in the article, the distance factor comes back into play. Chisiano quotes an interview with a female secondary student who walks 15 kilometers each day in an area where rape and murder is prevalent. She says she is always exhausted at school and can’t focus, resulting in poor grades.

The entire conclusion of the article then focuses on the current work by local organizations to provide items to female students such as cooking pots, school bags, etc. Excuse me, but where did this come from? I thought we were talking about boarding schools.

If SEED is, in fact, focusing on boarding schools, this is a very timely and realistic solution. A much better, evidence-based article has emerged from the British newspaper, The Telegraph. The chairman of the Boarding Schools Association is arguing to build more boarding facilities and to find additional funding for children who cannot afford boarding. His case includes the positive economic implications of boarding facilities, pertaining to both time spent traveling and the cost of transportation, and explains to the average lay-person (such as myself) why the UK is working to expand access to boarding facilities. Perhaps Chisiano should take note.

Chisiano, E. (2013, October 22). Inadequate boarding facilities blamed for low girls’ education in Machinga. Malawi News Agency Online. Retrieved from http://www.manaonline.gov.mw/index.php/national/education/item/498-inadequate-boarding-facilities-blamed-for-low-girls-education-in-machinga.

Paton, G. (2013, October 28). Expanding state boarding ‘to eliminate lengthy school commutes’. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10407751/Expand-state-boarding-to-eliminate-lengthy-school-commutes.html.

 

****The original article was pulled from the Internet; however a copy of the story can still be found at http://allafrica.com/stories/201310230150.html.

One generation of educated girls is a revolution

Melinda Tankard Reist, the author of this “news” article in the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper, begins her stream-of-consciousness entry by talking about slum girls in an unnamed Indian town who had been given the chance to go to school. Reist is a blogger, social commentator, and advocate for women and girls worldwide. From the start, Reist infiltrates emotional propaganda into her work, perhaps to cover up the fact that any newsworthy information is lacking in numbers and strength, but I digress.

These Indian girls had been brought up living off the waste in nearby landfills, selling cloth they found for money to buy food. In India, in many communities, girls are not given first priority. Inserting her propaganda again, Reist tells us how a Christian NGO gave them this gift of education and now they are graduating and she gets to hand out the graduation certificates. Hooray!! Happy endings for all. Sarcasm aside, yes, it was a beautiful story, but what about the other “66 million girls currently out of school”? There are far too many unhappy endings to be rejoicing just yet.

For the second half of her written celebration, Reist gives an overview of the recent documentary Girl Rising. In all seriousness, if you haven’t seen this it is worth your time. Reist highlights three of the girls portrayed in this documentary and their heart-wrenching stories of oppression and determination to be educated. In their personal fights for education, these girls faced pre-pubescent marriage, poverty, and child slavery. The documentary brings to light issues faced by millions of girls worldwide whose significance is not recognized by patriarchal societies.

Ironically, the quote Reist chooses from the film is from a child bride, saying, “Don’t tell me you are on my side; your silence has spoken for you.” If Reist had wanted to bring up the disappointing statistics pertaining to girls denied education, it is my humble opinion that she should have focused more of her article on suggested solutions or current global legislation such as EFA or the MDG. It felt as if she were saying, “There are so many poor, unfortunate girls out of school, but let’s look past them to the happy endings and all the progress being made.” This is why change is so slow. If you feel strongly enough to write an article about sending girls to school for the purpose of reduced poverty and world change, you should do something about it.

In light of a recent class on the topic of feminist perspectives of development, it is worthwhile to note that Reist, a self-proclaimed feminist, seems to fall neatly within the Women in Development (WID) viewpoint. Those who ascribe to WID, though advocates for the advancement of women in society, still view women as helpless victims. Reist ends her article saying, “‘If [these girls] get what they need incredible things will happen. Can we help them do that?’” It seems to me that these girls are heroes all on their own.

Reist, M.T. (2013, October 6). One generation of educated girls is a revolution. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/comment/one-generation-of-educated-girls-is-a-revolution-20131005-2v0qx.html.

Female education affects child mortality rates

According to recent reports by UNESCO, allowing females to complete secondary education could decrease the under-five mortality rates in India and Nigeria by 61 and 43 percent, respectively. Aarti Dhar, reporter for Indian newspaper The Hindu, writes that completing secondary school causes girls to marry later, creating a higher maturity of both body and mind when they have children. Not only that, but also the academic and worldly knowledge gained in school allows mothers to better care for their babies.

In terms of mothers’ well-being, the 2012 World Mothers Report ranks India 119th and Nigeria 123rd out of 165 surveyed countries. This ranking is based on mothers’ health, educational and economic statuses. The article states that there are many “simple solutions” to improve children’s health, such as mosquito nets and clean water, but that these things are only effective if women are taught to use them. Of course he is correct, but to consider clean water a simple solution is a bit ambitious. Dhar also discusses several prevalent causes of child mortality, such as pneumonia and diarrhea. These diseases are largely preventable with appropriate vitamins and nutrients, and proper hygiene. By completing school, not only would mothers know the necessary nutrients and hygiene rules but Dhar asserts that they would have a stronger voice in the home.

An article I recently read by Jane Parpart entitled Deconstructing the Development Expert discusses the vulnerability of women in third world countries. During colonization (and even before) it was challenging to attend school no matter one’s gender, but men have historically been provided with greater opportunity. This led to the subordination of women due to poverty, a lack of education, and powerlessness.

Parpart discusses Women in Development (WID), an approach to the development of third world countries that is superimposed with feminism. Parpart argues that though those in WID may mean well, the discourse associated encourages practitioners to undervalue the knowledge and expertise of impoverished, primitive people – even women – perpetuating their general powerlessness. She brings to light a new “empowerment approach” to development that calls for a new definition of the word ‘development’ itself. This approach is grounded in the expertise and knowledge of the women in developing countries, and uses the experiences from their daily lives to determine what is needed in their lives and communities.

Applying this division of post-structuralism to Dhar, people tend to see their own problems above others’. If women were consulted about their desires and necessities in the community, I would speculate many of their concerns would focus on their rights – particularly those pertaining to education and health. Imagine if this approach were applied in every developing community. How many more health clinics would there be? Schools? Universities?

In this article, Dhar merely states facts and findings from recent UNESCO studies. Taken at face value, the credibility is negligent; however, once applied to recent readings and development theory, his writing becomes a succinct summary of what the development world should aim to achieve. Education is a powerful tool. It leads to better health, better job opportunities, a better economic status, and a bigger voice for all members of society, and isn’t that the purpose of development?

Dhar, A. (2013, September 25). Female education linked to under-5 mortality rate. The Hindu. Retreived from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/female-education-linked-to-under5-mortality-rate/article5164829.ece.