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 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/http%3Cspan%20class=’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 http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/11/06/un-world-bank-call-to-action-women-health-girl-education-sahel

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 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/http%3Cspan%20class=’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://www.unisdr.org/www.iaea.org/story.asp?NewsID=46432&Cr=sahel&Cr1=

 

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“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

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.

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 http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21588927-new-research-hints-better-method-ensure-girls-africa-stay-school-when