A growing weight of academic research strongly suggests that investing in adolescent girls – by ensuring equal access to education, technology, employment and political participation – is one of the most cost-effective tools for reducing poverty in lesser developed countries. Yet, governments in many countries, as well as the global donor community, have been relatively slow to change their social and budgetary priorities accordingly. In a brief introduction, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, noted the Forum’s recent efforts to document the progress – or lack of it – in eliminating this aspect of the gender gap.
Moderator Lisa MacCallum
, Managing Director, Nike Foundation, Nike, USA, noted that the specific barriers faced by young girls in the developing world are often overshadowed by a focus on more general issues such as gender inequality or child poverty. This is a mistake, she said, given that girls constitute the “world’s greatest source of untapped potential.” The costs of not directly addressing their needs – at an early age – can be substantial. “If you don’t get to girls by age 12, you are investing in the cure, not the prevention,” she said.
Colin Coleman, Managing Director and Head of Investment Banking, Sub-Saharan Africa, Goldman Sachs, South Africa, reviewed highlights from a research report — entitled Woman Hold Up Half the Sky – issued by his bank last year. Among the key findings: Education greatly increases the likelihood that girls will work outside the home, dramatically improves the wages of those who find employment and results in lower rates of child mortality, HIV infection and other diseases. This makes education for girls a powerful driver of long-term economic growth. The study estimated that full educational equality with boys could raise the continent’s trend growth rate by two full percentage points, leading to a 30% increase in per capita income by 2030.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director, World Bank, Washington DC; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, said the bank’s studies show that the economic gains from secondary and university education for girls are even higher than from primary schooling. For every year of secondary school attended, average wages for girls increase by 10 to 20%, even higher than the 5 to 15% wage gains seen for boys. “If you can catch them before some critical life decisions are made, it can have an enormously positive effect on themselves, their families and their nations.”
Graça Machel, Founder and President, Foundation for Community Development (FDC), Mozambique; Co-Chair, Global Agenda Council on the Future of Africa, argued strongly that the most critical need is not for increased funding or political commitment, but a fundamental change in traditional cultural attitudes, which frequently place a greater value on boys. “This is one of the most fundamental reforms we can make on this continent – to dismantle this belief,” Machel said.
Richard Harvey, Chair and Former Chief Executive Officer, Aviva; Chairperson, Business Advisory Group, Africa Progress Panel (APP), Switzerland, argued that African families often place too great a value on the labour girls provide around the house and underestimate the longer term gains in family income that education and employment can produce. The desire of many African men for young brides also creates negative incentives for girls to leave school. The most effective solution to the latter problem, he said, is social pressure, driven by an awareness of the benefits that female education and employment can bring to impoverished communities.
Donald Kaberuka, President, African Development Bank (ADB), Tunis, stressed the need to focus particular attention on the needs of girls in countries afflicted by war or civil strife. In some African countries, he noted, entire age cohorts have never seen the inside of a school, creating “lost generations” that now must be reached with remedial education and training.
• African governments need to accelerate their efforts to equalize educational and employment opportunities for girls. Reaching acceptable rates of economic growth may depend on it.
• Traditional cultural attitudes that value boys more highly than girls must be challenged and the long-term economic benefits of education and employment for girls need to be more fully recognized.
Source: World economic Forum