16 October 2010

The Girl Effect

This summer I read Three Cups of Tea & Stones into Schools. Both books are about the Central Asia Institute and its work building schools for the least accessible, least privileged communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. One thing that really stuck with me from these stories was the idea that educating girls reduces terrorism. If I remember correctly, when a young man wants to go on a violent jihad, he will usually ask his mother's blessing. If she had a balanced education as a girl (one that includes math, science, social studies, reading, writing, etc.) she's less likely to give her blessing, and if she doesn't give her blessing, her son is less likely to go on the jihad. I can't remember the specifics of why, and unfortunately, I was a good citizen and returned the books to the library so I can't look it up. If you want more info on how that all works, read the books yourself. :-)

What's really interesting, is that this phenomenon is part of a documented effect--The Girl Effect. Educate a boy and he will leave his village, move to a bigger city, and better himself. Educate a girl and she will use that education to better her village. On the revolution page The Girl Effect claims that, "Less than two cents of every international aid dollar spent in the developing world is earmarked for girls. And yet when a girl has resources, she will reinvest them in her community at a much higher rate than a boy would. If the goal is health, wealth, and stability for all, a girl is the best investment." Educating girls is a simple, proven way to improve quality of life for the poorest of the poor and at the same time reduce terrorism. In an article for the Oxford Leadership journal, Tamara Woodberry states that, "There is a strong case made for the connection between subjugation of women and girls and the promotion of violence, extremism and terrorism."

Below is a video about the Girl Effect. They focus on adolescent marriage and pregnancy, but many other factors are influenced by the education or lack of education for girls in a community. I agree with most of what the video presents, but I take issue with one thing. The video implies that raising maternal age to about 18 years will lower maternal mortality. However, maternal age is not the only factor (or even the main factor) that influences mortality rates. Public health and sanitation also play an important role. In countries and communities where most women have their first child after age 18, public health and good sanitation are generally more widely available and even teen moms usually have good outcomes to their pregnancies. Areas where adolescent pregnancy is the norm also often have little or no access to public health, good sanitation, or clean water. These factors may have a large impact on maternal mortality, regardless of the mother's age.

Historically, the importance of improved public health and sanitation has been overlooked as a major factor in maternal mortality rates. For example, if you look at the time period in the US when hospital birth was coming into vogue, maternal mortality rates did decrease overall. But during that same time period, public health and sanitation dramatically improved. Who's to say which was the main factor in decreasing maternal deaths? We all agree that there was an improvement, but I think that pinning it on just one factor is a very simplistic way of looking at things. Anyway, just something to keep in mind as you watch the following video. I'm all for the positive aspects of the Girl Effect, but I think that improvements in public health and sanitation that occur as a result of educating girls does at least as much to prevent maternal mortality as raising the average maternal age.

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