The Girl Effect
“Studies from the World Bank indicate that just one year of primary school can result in an income bump of 10 percent to 20 percent for women later in life. According to Yale economist Paul T. Shultz, an extra year of secondary school may raise that same girl’s lifetime wages by an additional 15 to 20 percent. And the effects don’t end there. A number of studies indicate that in communities where a majority of the girls are educated through the fifth grade, infant mortality drops significantly after a single generation. At the same time—and somewhat paradoxically—basic education for girls correlates perfectly with lower, more sustainable population growth. In communities where girls have received more education, they marry later and have fewer children than their illiterate counterparts.
“These premises, which I also encountered in the work of Novel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, are now accepted by many development experts around the world. (The definitive short book on the general subject is What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World, by Barbara Herz and Gene B. Sperling.) Simply put, young women are the single biggest potential agents of change in the developing world—a phenomenon that is sometimes referred to as the Girl Effect and that echoes an African proverb I often heard during my childhood years in Tanzania: ‘If you teach a boy, you educate an individual; but if you teach a girl, you educate a community.’ No other factor even comes close to matching the cascade of positive changes triggered by teaching a single girl how to read and write. In military parlance, girls’ education is a ‘force multiplier’--and in impoverished Muslim societies, the ripple effect of female literacy can be profound.
“Take the issue that many in the West would consider to be the most pressing of all. ‘Jihad’ is an Arabic word referring to a ‘struggle’ that is undertaken as a means of perfecting oneself, improving society, or defeating the perceived enemies of Islam. In Muslim societies, a person who has been manipulated into believing in extremist violence or terrorism often seeks the permission of his mother before he may join a militant jihad—and educated women, as a rule, tend to withhold their blessing for such things. Following 9/11, for example, the Taliban’s forces suffered from significantly increased desertions; as a countermeasure, they began targeting their recruitment efforts on regions where female literacy was especially low.
“Education, of course, offers no guarantee that a mother will refuse to endorse violent jihad, but it certainly helps to stack the odds against the men—and, yes, they are invariably men—who promote the lie that killing innocent people is in keeping with the teachings of the Koran. Although I am not an authority on the Koran, religious scholars have repeated emphasized to me during the last sixteen years that murder and suicide are two of the most unforgivable sins in Islam.
“It is important to be clear about the fact that the aim of the Central Asia Institute is not indoctrination. We have no agenda other than assisting rural women with their two most frequent requests: ‘We don’t want out babies to die, and we want our children to go to school.’ And in the process of addressing those wishes, it is certainly not our aim to teach the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan to think or act like Americans. We simply want them to have the chance to attend schools that offer a balanced, non-extremist education. In this respect, we’re also extremely sensitive to the difference between literacy and ideology. It is our belief that the first helps to thwart intolerance, challenge dogma, and reinforce out common humanity. The second does the opposite.
“At the moment, female literacy in rural Afghanistan continues to languish in the single digits. In rural Pakistan, the figures are a little higher, but not by much. The demand for schools, teachers, books, desks, notebooks, uniforms, chalkboards, paper, and pencils in these two Islamic nations is immense, and the benefits of American investment in this “intellectual infrastructure” are absolutely clear. Nothing that has happened since my unsuccessful attempt to climb K2—including 9/11-has changed my conviction that promoting female literacy represents the best way forward for Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
- From the book, Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson. 2009. pp12-14. Viking, N.Y.
In his prior book, Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson cited the following, from development experts, which are confirmed by his own experiences and observations. When boys from rural villages are educated, they tend to leave and never return. When girls are educated, they tend to return, which is an enormous resource for the village. If you can educate the girls to the fifth grade, it has a significant cascading social impact on sanitation, nutrition, the education of others, and the ability for them to get a job that pays a living wage. And mothers that are literate do not let their sons join terrorist organizations.