Educating girls has (finally) become a major goal for development according to international organizations. After years of visible struggle and centuries of both silent and scandalous domination, world leaders have agreed that opening the door of knowledge to women will be a way to improve society as a whole. For so many still attached to conventions that have little to do with nature, it is useful to underline that this is not only a matter of equality (which has astonishingly been an idea so difficult to understand for generations), but also for practical reasons: Educating women would mean making half of the world’s population active and informed actors for development.
Essentially, educating women is a lowcost inversion with a long-lasting profit. Nevertheless, according to UNESCO, 60 percent of the 113 million children out of school are girls. The call for solutions is critical; otherwise, these children will join the half a billion women in the world who are already illiterate. One of the most interesting initiatives to push us all toward the goal is the informative channel Queen Rania of Jordan created to promote education and intercultural understanding. For the International Women’s Day, the Queen extensively summarized the facts, the advantages, and the urgencies. Educating girls would mean they would be less likely to be victims of violence and exploitation and more likely to be empowered—to be actors of change. Also, women would be less likely to marry at an early age and more likely to be able to study formally. If that was not enough, let us think about how educated women would fall much less often into early motherhood and would be able to educate her children better. Finally, an idea that calls for a deep exercise of thought: “We have the ways, but not the will.”
To so many of us, education seems like a natural thing to have and to promote. Nevertheless, all around us there are millions of people who need not only the means to be able to access education, but also the understanding of an equal education for all, girls and boys, women and men. After the big revolution of the ’60s and the possibilities of controlling motherhood, the numbers of women participating in the (paid) field of work and universities exploded. It is important to remind ourselves, however, that the women’s rights movement happened in countries where resources were available. The drama of poverty and family education keeps preventing women from exploring their intelligence. Silent male domination still makes it difficult for women to arrive at real gender equality, to study and practice certain careers, or even want these things for herself. The Cinderella complex is alive and still very well nourished by many. The little detail they forget to tell girls most of the time is that it won’t be only the dress and carriage to disappear at midnight, but also Prince Charming himself, and the whole package that comes attached.
Interpretations of nature and role divisions have not made life any easier for men or for women, but there are still some ways out. We already know education is one way out, and, as some groups have demonstrated, when resources fail, new alternatives start to grow. Right now, I have two good examples that have worked very well: non-formal education and technology (both mixed and separate). Non-formal education consists mainly in groups that don’t belong to the academic formal system (like primary school for example) but provide education in a flexible yet organized fashion. Most of us have been surrounded by many incarnations of non formal education: short courses, Sunday school, dance classes, and other extracurricular activities that take place outside of the traditional school setting. On the other hand, technology and its many uses have been an advantage for encouraging gender equality. As so many societies consider computers and the Internet to be a male-dominated field, many women’s organizations try to advocate for women’s rights and education have used technology as their main tool for empowerment. From initiatives like the Indian Blank Noise Project, which defends the rights
of women against abuse and stalking, to the Egyptian project Women of Minya Day by Day, which fights taboos that keep women subjected to men at work and at home; advocacy for women’s rights and empowerment are present around the web. Projects mixing non-formal education adapted to women’s needs have been seen, for example, in Bangladesh and Venezuela. The wonderful Nari Jibon (‘Women’s life’ in Bangla) have given some
women from Dhaka the chance to have a space to learn how new technologies work for different uses. Training in tailoring, hardware reparation, blogging, English, and Bangla for those that don’t know how to read and write, opened the door for better jobs, more money for the families, less violence at home, and more decision-making based on intellectual and economic independence. This project has seen its ability to continue challenged, but the knowledge and empowerment of these women remain and is seen, in some cases, through the writing of bloggers. In Venezuela, the project Aliadas en Tecnología stands for the same goals, motivating women to explore
their attitudes, gain independence, and reinvent themselves beyond the traditional role of wife and mother.
Fortunately, the examples of advocacy are not few. Unfortunately, these efforts are small in front of the immense challenges.
Collaborating, spreading information and supporting ideas like this one could be a beginning. Nevertheless, one of the most important steps is to actually be aware of the lack of equality that still surrounds us. To stand against the inequalities imposed by boys over girls at school, as subtle as they might be, as well as the roles and ideal images of men and women dictated by social conventions and mainstream media. Seeing numbers of women increasing in Western (and western-like) universities is not enough to know that the goal has been achieved. Being able to think, to question, and to point out, although not always easy or simple, are the first steps to disarm the failure of imagination brought by domination—not only male, but any female domination of any kind.
Fortson, C. 2003. Women’s Rights Vital for
Developing World. Yale News Daily.
Dowling, C . 1982. The Cinderella Complex:
Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence.
New York: Pocket Books.
UNESCO. 2003. Gender and Education for All:
The Leap to Equality. Paris: Graphoprint.
UNESCO. The Millennium Development
Goals and Water