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.