“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”
I am sure that each one of us would have at some point in time read or heard this proverb. However, the irony is that despite recognizing the importance and impact of education in women’s empowerment and its pivotal role in breaking the poverty cycle, an overwhelming two-third of 773 illiterate individuals in the world happen to be women and girls.
As we enter March 2023, and inch closer to the 50th International Women’s Day (International Women’s Day was recognized by the UN in 1975 – that takes its formal existence to 48 years, while the movement that got initiated by 15,000 American women in 1908 seeking voting rights, shorter work hours and better pay and one day was honored and dedicated to the Women in 1911) there is a lot of ground that still needs to be covered.
No nation can afford to keep half of the population deprived of education if there is a seriousness toward the overall upliftment of the country’s economy. While there is enough and more data available on how women’s education has been instrumental in the development of the nations, the need to persistently recognize and drive the significance of education is a testimony to the unjust and discriminatory environment that still exists.
Less than often, education is confused with literacy. While the UN data also confirms over 500 million women to be illiterate, a large part of literate women may or may not have attended a formal school. Education is a journey and it has to persist beyond the levels of basic reading, writing, and calculation. The objective of education is to help one assess and make an informed decision in situations encountered in life. When a girl child gets to get educated, she would be able to stand up to the adversities and biases and take decision that helps fight the inequalities. Women first need to be in a position to take independent decisions which can only be achieved through education. Once this has been achieved by any girl, financial independence is more likely to set in.
An educated woman will have a multi-fold impact on society at large, beginning with her own family. Even marginalized women with the right education and exposure would be able to get better employment opportunities and amputate the shackle of poverty. Even if the first generation of educated women is unable to get to the level of being financially free, the facilitation of a better environment to attain higher education by the next generation cannot be contested. It is an undisputed fact that women play a central role in families and having future kids exposed to better education will only help families break the cycle of poverty.
Secondly, education also leads to a higher awareness of rights and duties. With improved education among women, they will be able to exercise their rights in a better way. This in turn will have a positive impact on gender equality. Meaning, better work opportunities, a higher income, and above all a conducive environment for this group to thrive and grow.
Thirdly, improvement in girl child education will also make the men more compassionate and empathetic towards their female compatriots. Today, females spend 2.5 more time on unpaid care and domestic work than their male counterparts. Since edification leads to economic upliftment and as we discussed above, improved women’s education will lead to a better education environment in families and in turn society. As both education and economic backgrounds play an important role in widening the thought process, women shall begin to be appreciated for all such work. It is safe to state that girl education will help build tolerance among families and society against the so-called social norms around women and their roles. This is bound to lead to the availability of better opportunities for women.
What we observe here is that the education of women and girls has a cyclic impact on breaking the cycle of poverty.
While the world leaders will continue to work towards taking steps leading to tangible outcomes, let us all do our bit in promoting the girl child and women’s education in whatever ways we can. Small steps taken by a large number of individuals will lead to aiding the government initiatives and expediting the process.
Author – Sangeeta Kapoor, Founder-Principal, The Infinity School, Noida.