Girls’ education has been deemed a ‘silver bullet’ for some of the biggest development challenges. It has been likened to a Swiss army knife because of the range of tools it offers for international development and is acclaimed by world leaders and leading economists for its impact on health, social welfare, economic prosperity, and climate change.
There is, however, an inherent risk in presenting girls’ education as a fix-it for the world’s problems. On one hand, it places the burden of these problems on girls’ shoulders; while on the other, it deflects from the fundamental, structural inequalities that are at the root of these problems and perpetuate girls’ and women’s marginalisation.
Take the improvements in family health and welfare linked to girls’ education. Rather than being indicative of girls’ empowerment, these improvements may instead reflect the fact that educated women are better able to cope with inadequate public services and mitigate their impact on their families. In other words, girls’ education is effectively equipping girls and women to bear the brunt of failed systems.
Unless we are prepared to confront this risk and tackle the root causes of girls’ exclusion and marginalisation, we will only unlock a mere fraction of the potential of girls’ education.
Even if we see an increase in girls’ school enrollment, this will not necessarily translate to a meaningful shift in their post-school prospects and life outcomes. We will miss the opportunity to achieve the kind of systemic change that leads to social justice and sustainable development.
Our organisation, the Campaign for Female Education, or CAMFED, provides an example of how this can be done. We focus on how the system can be made accountable to the poorest, most marginalised girl so that the system works for her.
The outcome of this approach is evident in the cadre of empowered women leaders in the CAMFED Association, the pan-African network founded by the first groups of young women to complete secondary school with CAMFED’s support. The association has a growing membership, now numbering nearly 178,000, with lawyers and policymakers among them.
Read the full article about girls’ education by Angeline Murimirwa at Alliance Magazine.
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