Educating Girls Can Reduce Poverty in Developing Countries


LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The education of children, both boys and girls alike, is critical to future global economic success and stability. Educational quality and access is lacking in many developing countries for both boys and girls. However, girls in developing countries are even less likely to have access to education because of patriarchal societal rules, forced labor, child marriage and genital mutilation.

Sixteen million girls between the ages of 6 and 11 will never have the opportunity to go to school, which is twice the rate of boys in developing countries. Additionally, two-thirds of women in developing countries are unpaid workers who spend their days at home taking care of children and doing back breaking work such as tilling the land and carrying water.

This means that women are a large population of untapped economic potential in the developing world. Educating girls can reduce poverty in developing countries and the consequences of not heeding this call could cost $21 billion dollars over the next 15 years.

The current situation for women in developing nations is dire and mostly out of their hands. The suggested lost potential is staggering.

Troubling Statistics

  • One in eight girls in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia are subjected to child marriage; one in seven gives birth by age 17.
  • In Pakistan, only 30 percent of women believe they are allowed to choose how many children they have.
  • 47,700 girls are married daily before the age of 18.
  • 70 percent of the world’s 10-year-olds live in African and Arab countries where girls are least likely to be enrolled in secondary school.
  • Girls married in adolescence are less likely to continue their education.

First Steps

These first steps allow women basic rights and decision-making abilities that greatly improve their prospects for the future.

  • Establish 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage.
  • Comprehensive sex education and access to birth control.
  • Extend public health services and health education equally to boys and girls.
  • HIV/AIDS education specific to gender.
  • Inclusion of women in planning, education and execution of social policies.
  • Active promotion and discussion of women’s rights and the benefits of inclusion in decision-making.

The Benefits

The benefits of educating girls go far beyond personal autonomy and dignity. It extends hope and prosperity to society and future generations.

  • When women improve their lives, the benefits extend to the entire family unit and raises household incomes.
  • Child and maternal mortality rates decrease because women have fewer children and are more informed about preventable diseases and malnutrition.
  • Education correlates to the age women are married and have children. It is estimated that girls who obtain a secondary education are 64 percent less likely to be married at an age when they should still be in school.
  • Women are more likely to decide for themselves when to get married and how many children to have; it is estimated that 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in sub-Saharan Africa in 2008 if the mothers had a secondary education.
  • Education empowers women to fight for social change and demand equality.
  • Education increases lifetime incomes that contribute to communities and countries; girls with an education have an 18 percent return in future wages.

Educating girls can reduce poverty in developing countries and the time to start is now. It is not only a moral imperative; it makes economic sense for chronically impoverished nations.

Women who are healthy, educated and included in meaningful decision-making are a potential boom to economies all over the world by offering a means to break the cycle of poverty for families, communities and entire countries. The alternative is a world that will continue to suffer under the confines of oppressed women and girls.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr


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