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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Free school buses: a practical and transformative solution for Indian girls

As the 2015 MDG target approaches, nations are increasingly concerned with achieving universal primary education. Since the Millennium Development Goal 2 states the need for universal primary education, many states and aid agencies have focused their recent attention on young children. While primary school serves as the educational foundation, it is critical that states and organizations also focus on improving access to secondary school and beyond.

The article, “Educate girls to alleviate poverty” highlights the fact that primary school enrollment rates have improved, but girls continue to face challenges in accessing secondary school. The article further explains that gender gaps tend to increase as students age, citing estimates that women in South Asia have about half as many years of schooling as their male counterparts. Even though more girls are enrolled in primary school, it is critical for them to have opportunities to further their education in secondary school. The piece calls for greater emphasis on improving access to education, specifically post primary schooling for females.

The article, “Bringing education to girls, on buses,” focuses on a practical solution to the issue of access. Pranab Saikia explains that many girls from rural villages surrounding Gurgaon, a city near New Delhi, were forced to leave school early because lacked a safe way to travel to school. Recognizing that it is not necessarily practical or realistic to build schools in every village for teenage girls, a local resident, Rakesh Daultabad raised money to provide free buss services for the young women. To date, three buses transport approximately 350 young women from their rural homes to their school in the city. This article highlights the fact that sometimes in education, the solution can be as simple as providing a school bus in order for students to safely travel to school.

After reading this article about buses, I was first struck by how such an obvious and simple solution can have a dramatic influence on a young woman’s life. While bus services are a practical solution, I would have liked to know how the founder, Rakesh Daultabad gained the trust of parents to transport their children. I would imagine that many parents would be skeptical of permitting their daughters from traveling to the city with strangers, especially males.

Additionally, while I agree that access to education and school enrollment is important, it is only one aspect of education reform. Attending school is not enough. It is imperative that students receive a high quality education in school. Simply transporting to student to school is not enough to ensure that they develop the necessary skills to become successful adults in the future. Schools must be improved and teachers must deliver quality lessons and learning opportunities. The Azim Premji Foundation is working to address the issue of quality in India through teacher training programs, curriculum building, school leader training and examination reforms.

In order for us to truly reform global education, and specifically education for girls, we must value and implement both practical approaches, such as Daultabad’s buses, to increase access, as well as the Azim Premji Foundation’s approach to improve the quality of schools, teachers and administrators. If we can focus on both access and quality, then there will be potential for true reform.

Sources:

Chelala, Cesar (2013, October 19). Educate girls to alleviate poverty. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/19/educate-girls-to-alleviate-poverty/.

Saikia, Pranab (2013, November 10). Bringing education to girls, on buses. Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-10/gurgaon/43885288_1_20-villages-girl-students-higher-education.

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.

“The Economist” Discovers Gender Inequality in Education

Please excuse the cheeky title. While it does represent my first reaction to these two articles from The Economist this week, it’s an unfair representation. Being somewhat more level-headed about it, I can view both articles as sort of primers for gender inequality in education. They’re targeting people who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs; they’re very “share-able” on Facebook and Twitter; and they’re great for increasing public awareness.

But let’s go over them a little more critically anyway.

In the first, “Making room for girls,” the author discusses in broad strokes the push toward universal enrollment in primary education and closing the gender gap, driven by the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. They cite the reasoning behind this push as driven by a waste of human capital: failing to educate girls limits economic growth. Definitely true, but not nearly the only reason the global community is working to get every girl and boy in primary school. Don’t forget about the agreed basic human right to education, among many other reasons.

The article makes a great point that while the primary enrollment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa has gone up significantly (though not enough to meet the relevant MDG), enrollment in secondary and tertiary education has actually fallen. Some country-specific data are also highlighted, making the point that averages hide some pretty significant differences. I’ve embedded their graph on progress toward universal education here:

The issue that the article completely skips is the issue of quality. Even if every single primary school-age child is enrolled, what does that say about the quality of the education they’re receiving? If there are 100 children in a classroom with a single teacher, or that teacher changes every other year because the pay is so low, or the curriculum they’re using is out of date, or there are inadequate study materials, how much does universal enrollment really matter?

And what does universal enrollment say about the gender equality in the classroom? Do the girls have positive role models, examples of women doctors, politicians, and businesses owners to spark their imaginations? Do they have female teachers? Do their teachers, administrators, and fellow classmates treat the girls the same as the boys? There are 1000 questions to ask about gender equality in the classroom that go beyond how many students of each gender are there.

I understand the argument that quality might come at a second stage, that once we get everyone in the classroom, we can focus on how well they’re being educated. But that is unfair to the millions of children being poorly educated right now. They might be happy that their younger siblings or even their children will be better educated. But I bet they’d also feel cheated out of a quality education because their school, community, country, and the rest of the world came together and decided that it mattered more that they were sitting at the desk than what happened on the blackboard.

Maybe I’m hard on The Economist because I think of them as above the rest – somehow superior to the usual rabble on the internet and other media. I want them to be complex, to show at least glimpses into the many sides of the story. While the first article doesn’t live up to my expectations, the second one is an improvement. It doesn’t go in too deep, but provides a look into a key difference between girls’ and boys’ education. (It might be worth noting that the first is available only on the internet, while the second was written for the print edition.)

When education dries up” redeems The Economist for me (and I know their editors are breathing easy now that they’ve regained my approval). It focuses on a lot of the same issues as the first, but raises an important note: poverty impacts girls’ and boys’ education differently. In droughts in Uganda, the article notes, girls were pulled out of school at a higher rate than boys to support the family income. The boys were kept in school because their long-term job prospects were better, and that means higher income in the future.

This ties girls’ education to not only issues of poverty, but the job market, food security, and host of others. So the second article takes a deeper look, makes the reader think, and hopefully (from my perspective) inspires a few readers to go deeper into some of the challenges facing girls’ education, all without being too technical, too boring, or too long. I guess The Economist knows what it’s doing after all.

 

R., C. (2013, November 5). Gender inequality: Making room for girls. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/11/gender-inequality

The economics of sexual inequality: When education dries up. (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

New all female university in Saudi Arabia

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

In 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia created the Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh, the largest women’s university in the world.  The article, “This gorgeous campus is the world’s largest women’s university – and it’s in Saudi Arabia,” highlights the many design features of the 32 million square foot university.

The campus includes sporting facilities, a medical center, research centers and a K-12 school and because of its architectural design, women are permitted to de-veil on the campus. The buildings were designed to meet the structural needs of modern learning with an emphasis on flexible space and environments that are conducive to team-based learning. The university’s design combines modern design elements with a traditional aesthetic to ensure that women can learn in an environment that respects cultural practice.

While the university is celebrated as a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s push for improved female education, simply providing high quality education does not immediately lead to change for women in the workforce. Abeer Allam in the article “Saudi Arabia’s women graduate’s hit ‘walls of tradition,’http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020619/this-gorgeous-campus-is-the-worlds-largest-womens-university-and-its-in-saudi-arabia#1” highlights to challenges that face female university graduates in Saudi Arabia. Despite a recent emphasis on increased female participation in the economy, he explains that “educated women, whether graduates of local or overseas universities, face a daunting mismatch between their skills and available jobs when they return home or leave education.” Often times, female graduates are not hired due to traditional cultural norms, as well as the high cost to employ women due to gender segregation accommodations that companies must implement. In order for women to become fully integrated into the economy, steps must be taken to ensure they are employed.

The article further explains that Saudi Arabia is increasingly emphasizing female education as a means for modernization and economic diversification. While the idea of modernization is typically viewed as a positive step for development, we must tread with caution to make sure that modernization is not a movement to become more western. PNU, in its architectural design and services, seems to be providing students with a quality education that considers local practices, though despite this, women continue to face issues with unemployment.  Hopefully, by equipping females with marketable skills and knowledge, PNU will serve as a catalyst for change by enabling women to become not only employed, but at a level that matches their training.

Too often education and literacy (which can encompass a broad range of skills) are viewed as a panacea for change. While improving girls’ access to education is critical, education is simply a means for achieving change. Education enables change, but does not automatically fix problems. In the case of Saudi Arabia, by establishing a world-class female university, the country is taking a step towards increased female opportunity in the formal economy. As Schwartz stated, “PNU is both beautiful and a place from which larger things might spring.” If Saudi Arabia truly wants increased female participation in the formal economy, further steps must be taken to make their education worthwhile.

Sources:

Allam, Abeer (2013, October 20). Saudi Arabia’s women graduate’s hit ‘walls of tradition.’ The Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fd900f22-1af5-11e3-87da-00144feab7de.html#axzz2jsaaBwnA.

Schwartz, Ariel (2013, October 29). This gorgeous campus is the world’s largest women’s university – and it’s in Saudi Arabia. Co.Exist. Retrieved from http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020619/this-gorgeous-campus-is-the-worlds-largest-womens-university-and-its-in-saudi-arabia#3

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.

Deceptions in Educational Statistics

As 2015 quickly approaches, nations are seriously examining their progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Cameroon has been highlighted for their success in increasing primary school enrollment to 88%, though further investigations indicate that this figure does not accurately capture the gaps between male and female enrollment rates. The article, “Cameroon’s girl-child education efforts limping” sheds light on the challenges facing young girls in Cameroon.

Currently, a large imbalance in enrollment persists. 94% of boys aged 6-14 are enrolled in school, compared to 80% of girls. This inequality increases in rural areas of Cameroon, specifically the Far North Region where only 17 in 100 girls are enrolled in primary school. These glaring inequalities pose a great challenge for Cameroon to overcome before they can meet the Millennium Development Goal for universal primary school. These statistics indicate that Cameroon may not be on track for meeting the Millennium Development Goals and the Education For All goals, both of which emphasize universal enrollment.

Many cultural factors impact girls’ access to education. In cases of extreme poverty, where family resources are limited, parents often will choose to educate sons over daughters. Many young girls in the region marry early and the belief that girls do not need schooling exists in many rural villages in the Far North Region. In order to increase girls’ access to primary schools, the government of Cameroon has partnered with the government of Japan and UNICEF to build “female-friendly” primary schools. While it is important to create educational environments where girls can thrive, simply providing girls with a schooling facility does not address the underlying cultural beliefs that prevent girls from attending school.

MTN Cameroon, one of the largest telecommunications companies in Africa, has launched an initiative in the Far North Region to address lagging female enrollment in primary schools. Through a series of fundraisers, the company plans to sponsor 2,100 girls age 6-15 for the next six years. By sponsoring their education, the company seeks to ease the financial burdens that prevent families from enrolling in school.

While the intentions behind this project might be good, it is critical to examine how development projects are implemented, rather than simply thinking about why they are implemented in communities. If development projects are not implemented well, they can cause unintended harm to communities.

The MTN project, while it provides a short-term solution, is not sustainable in the long run. After the six-year sponsorship ends, how will these girls (and future girls in these communities) access education? By simply providing funding, the program is not building local capacity to ensure that the project continues after the outside organization departs. After six years, these communities may not be better off, as girls many drop out causing enrollment rates to plummet. We must work with local communities to build projects that will thrive and continue without building dependency on outsiders.

Sources:

BizzCommunity (2013, October 30). MTN Cameroon sponsors over 2000 girls’ education. Retrieved from http://www.bizzcommunity.com/Article/38/98/102630.html.

Voice of America (2013, October 29). Cameroon’s girl-child education efforts limping. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/content/cameroons-girl-child-education-efforts-limping/1779044.html.