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Of the 1.2 billion people living in poverty, 70% are girls and women. Of this 70% living in poverty, 60 million girls are denied access to primary school. (Plan Canada 2010). Inhibiting girls' education at an early age causes detrimental effects to their well being, their families and communities. Plan Canada, a not for profit governmental organization, has directly addressed this issue and come up with a specific campaign to tackle the problem of women, poverty and education. This program is called "Because I am a Girl." Plan Canada has 17 funding countries and 66 program countries in the areas of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean and South and Central America. (Ibid) "Because I am a girl," is a "global movement for change" that provides aid specifically to girl children and women in these developing countries who are facing discrimination and barriers based on gender. (Ibid) Plan Canada believes that investing in girls in developing countries is the means to reducing poverty and instability. Girls have a unique quality where they possess the power to positively influence those around them. When they become successful, they will reinvest and give back to their families and communities, which will further alleviate the cycle of poverty. "If they are healthy, educated and empowered they will pull themselves out of poverty and bring their children, communities and nations along with them." (Plan Canada 2010) It is this reason that investing in the world's women and girls is so important. It is essential to note that, the "Because I am a girl," program is not one that is segregated or separated from men and other developmental programs and is not another attempt at the Women In Development (WID) approach from the mid 1970s which ultimately increased women's workload and disempowered women. The program is designed to assist women and girls in bringing themselves out of poverty and providing the necessary means that may not be readily available to them. It is important not to widen the gap between men and women or reinforce gender inequality as the WID approach has previously done. "Because I am a girl," invests in the livelihood of women and girls in developing countries and is simply trying to create and bring about equality for women. Investing money in girls' education is the key to increasing development in Third World Countries as it provides the platform for economic growth, poverty reduction and social return. As a financial donator to the "Because I am a girl" program I fully support the values, beliefs and intentions of the program and organization.
Investing money into girls' education needs to be a priority for developing countries that intend to achieve economic growth and prosperity and reduce poverty. When girls' and women are educated, they have better economic opportunities, chance for higher wages and have proven to re-invest their earnings back into their families and communities. According to Plan Canada's Youth Summary: The State of the World's girls 2009, each additional year of schooling will increase a girls' wages by 20-30%. When women begin to earn higher wages, they are better able to help their families and communities. "Ninety percent of women's wages are returned to the family, compared with 30 to 40 percent for men." (Scrivener 2009). When money is reinvested back into a community and family it provides the means necessary for alleviating poverty. For example, it could mean better health care and prevention, education opportunities for all children and a better lifestyle that is secure and free from early mortality. Investing money into girls' education will provide long-term macro and micro economic benefits for developing countries. According to Paul Schultz, a Professor of economics and development at Yale University, "At the macro economic level, schooling for girls had been the most powerful "nontraditional" input discovered to explain the puzzle of modern economic growth." Further economic benefits include, increasing capitol and maximizing economic efficiency or social output. The Global Campaign for Education states that, "Countries could raise per capita economic growth by about 0.3% percentage points per year or 3% in the next decade, if they attained parity in girls' and boys' enrollments." What this campaign is saying is that, if governments and NGOs like Plan Canada invest money into girls' education, to be equivalent to boys the countries people will experience economic growth. "â€¦ Investment in girls' education may well be the highest return investment available in the developing world."(Lawrence Summers former chief economist of the World Bank.) Economic growth is a key factor in reducing poverty in developing countries and governments should invest money into female education because of it.
The direct benefits that come from investing in girls' education are vast but there are also indirect benefits to the investment including, reproductive health for women, decreasing infant mortality, and decreasing family size. The longer a girl stays in school the better able she is to delay early marriage and pregnancy. "Secondary school has a more consistent and stronger effect on delaying childbearing, increased use of contraception, desire for fewer children, and actual reduced fertility." (Wagner 2008: 8) Pregnancy in young females is a life altering experience and costs the economy exorbitant amounts; it limits her lifetime earning potential and her engagement as an economic actor. Therefore, the delay in childbearing can dramatically decrease cost and expenses and in turn eliminate poverty. A recent study done by the Nike Foundation and the World Bank shows that, "pregnancy among girls and young women costs Kenya about $500 million annually, while investing in girls could add $3.2 billion to its economy." Education can provide girls with the opportunity to think, be engaged with knowledge and learn about family planning and safe contraceptives. An article written by Ruth Levine, Educating Girls, Unlocking Development, speaks further about the "inverse relationship" between women's education and fertility and how the "completion of primary school is strongly associated with later age at marriage, later age at first birth and lower lifetime fertility." When girls' are able to complete primary education they gain the knowledge needed to better their lives and take care of themselves and their families. In turn, lower fertility and later age of first birth is extremely beneficial to the country as economic costs are decreased, money is saved, and poverty is reduced.
Not only are educated girls' able to resist and delay pregnancy but when the time comes to start a family, educated females produce smaller family sizes which further provides economic profit and social return for the developing country. "The higher the level of female education, the lower desired family size and the greater the success in achieving desired family size." (Levine 2006: 128) The ripple effect continues, as females become more educated the health of their children increases and infant mortality decreases. Children become a huge expense, especially when they are unhealthy, maternal education therefore becomes a key factor in the economic development and growth of developing countries. "Girls' education is identified as one of the few interventions known to produce healthier children and more prosperous, smaller families." (Bosch 2001: 41) The economic prospects of female education are massive and much attention needs to be paid not only to the enrolment of females in the education system but also to the quality of education being put forth. "Education and ending oppression of women and girls is the cornerstone to economic progress in the developing world." (Kristof and WuDunn 2009: 39)
Furthermore, in the article, "Girls Education: Key to 'Virtuous Cycle,'" by Cynthia Wagner, she goes on to say that investing in female education will increase civic and political participation, lower levels of sexual harassment, reduce sexual and labour trafficking of young women while mitigating HIV/AIDS and reducing domestic violence. When social pressures and inequalities are alleviated from women, a psychological change occurs. Women begin to experience responsibility and empowerment. They become free to shape their own lives, rather than having their futures and lives shaped for them. Girls have a fundamental right to education and it is evident that a girls' education can demonstrate a ripple effect throughout her family and community. (Andrea Bosch 2001: 42) It is clear that there are numerous positive and beneficiary effects to the investment in girls' education.
Given the widespread understanding about the value of educating girls' and the surmounting evidence that has shown investing in girls' can be a successful poverty-fighting strategy, the international community and national governments have established ambitious goals for increased participation and progress towards gender parity in education systems. "The Millennium Development Goals (MDG), approved by all member states of the United Nations in 2000, call for universal primary education in all countries by 2015, as well as gender parity at all levels by 2015." (Levine 2006: 128) In many developing countries around the globe, there have been significant increases in the enrollment and completion of primary education for girls'. For example, "Across all developing countries, girls' primary school completion increased by 17 percent, from 65 percent to 76 percent between 1990 and 2000." (Ibid: 129) Although the developing world has seen progress in girls' attainment and completion of education, some nations, especially those lower-income poverty stricken nations, still have a long way to go. Completion of schooling is a significant problem especially in poor countries. "An estimated 104 million to 121 million children of primary school age across the globe are not in school, with the worst shortfalls in Africa and South Asia." (Ibid) Poverty is a key-inhibiting factor to the education of girls', and the constraints that hinder girls in the developing world are vast.
Investing in the education of young females is crucial to the development of third world countries, however many cultural, social and economical factors inhibit girls from attending school and getting a proper education. According to Andrea Bosch, (2001: 42) household jobs and childcare limit female education. In many developing countries, girls are an important part of cultural and home life and many large families cannot afford these opportunity costs. Bosch further goes on to say that, the education system in many developing countries has no concern for the responsibilities girls' and women have for their families and around the home, even though research has proven that educating girls' reaps enormous benefits for the country. "As a result, opportunities for girls to learn are bypassed in the name of caring for children and doing traditional chores." (Bosch 2001: 41) Without support from the education system and community, girls' and women "physically do not have the time," (Ibid) to care for children, complete household chores and go to school. Despite the evident long-term benefits education has for girls', it is inevitable that a large culturally limiting factor to them is the precedence that childbearing and rearing along with household chores takes over schooling.
Another factor that inhibits females in many developing countries is the male dominated education system. When girls' reach the classroom, their opportunity to learn is marginalized and suppressed as teaching methods and participation is heavily based on males, further limiting girls' with in the classroom. "Most often, classroom interaction, role models and encouragement focus on males, despite the significant and demonstrated returns to educating girls." (Bosch 2001: 42-43) Since role models and teaching staff are predominantly male, girls' are at a higher risk of sexual harassment, which pushes them away from attending school. With in this patriarchal curriculum and education system, girls are further inhibited by the lack of accommodating facilities to their gender. "There is a critical minimum of infrastructure, including separate sanitation facilities for girls." (Bellew 1992: 54) Sometimes, there is no separate facility at all. Girls' who are menstruating are often embarrassed and will not attend school for the duration of their period, further pushing them away from school. These social factors unmistakably limit girls' education and governments must address these issues first hand, as the obvious long-term benefits outweigh the short-term conveniences.
Furthermore, poverty becomes a huge constraint to the education of females. Parents withstand the worst of the direct costs to education such as school fees, books and clothing. With multiple children and low-income wages, many families in developing countries cannot afford to send all their children to and so they must be selective. "The more expensive education is, the less likely families are to invest in education for girls." (Unterhalter 2005: 20) For low-income families with multiple children, the girl children are twice as likely to be withdrawn from school first when the cost of education is to expensive. (Ibid) What families fail to realize is that by educating their female children, the long-term economic benefits are far greater and can actually alleviate poverty and stimulate greater income into the women's families, communities and countries. However, the direct costs of education still become a huge deterrent to girls' education.
Developing countries have realized and grasped the notion that educating girls' is in the countries best interest, however with so many other internal problems and issues, governments are finding it extremely difficult to allocate funds to the education system. Therefore, poorer countries experience fewer enrollments into school and a higher drop out rate. For example, "In Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, India, Mali, Morocco, Niger, and Senegal, more than half of children from the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution never even enroll. Elsewhere, particularly in Latin America, enrollment may be almost universal, but high repetition and dropout rates lead to low completion rates." Proving that, poor students and those students living in poverty are less likely to complete school. This is where programs and organizations like "Because I am a girl," and Plan Canada step in, provide aid, and help those countries and people that are suffering.
Developing countries need the crutch that the developed world provides, as those countries such as Canada and the U.S have the ability and power to do so. It is important that the developed countries address the special needs and vulnerabilities of marginal populations without taking over and providing the country with "charity". Non-governmental Organizations and development programs need to tackle and directly address the grassroots of the problems in each specific developing country and teach, guide and instruct the people of the developing country so they can pull themselves out of poverty and dismay and turn the viscous cycle of poverty into a virtuous cycle of prosperity.
Women can no longer be bypassed in the developing world; they are the agents of productivity, the linchpins of development strategy and the force behind economic growth. When educated, women will pave the pathway out of poverty, when successful they will give back to their families and community as they have the ability and the drive to lift themselves out of misfortune and enter into a new life full of prosperity and free from disadvantage. More and more donor agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations have realized the positive effects of educating girls' and are taking action and incorporating more women into development strategies. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) summed up there mounting research this way: "Women's empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation." Different aid groups and foundations have also recognized the enormous benefits. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, who founded Doctors Without Boarders stated bluntly that in development: "Progress is achieved through women." The Nike foundation is dedicating time, effort and money toward building opportunities for young girls in developing countries and of course, Plan Canada's program "Because I am a girl. " Plan Canada provides the means necessary for girls to live a better life so they can complete their education and become successful in the working world. "By supporting their development as healthy confident young people, they will take their rightful place in society as empowered women, mothers, workers and leaders." (Plan Canada: 2010). I am proud to support this issue, and I know that these young women will give back to their communities in countless ways and inevitably improve the lives of those around them. Girls' have a fundamental right to education, the proof is there the evidence is clear and the return of investing in educating girls' will prevail. It is important to remember that boys and men are still key actors in the development process, however girls' and boys need to attain parity and equality to achieve ultimate success. Girls' stand up against numerous barriers, but with time, strategy, global recognition and understanding along with implementation of programs, eliminating poverty and sustaining the economy in the developing world is possible. Girls' need attention in the patriarchal developing world and it is girls', at the centre of all antipoverty efforts, that will triumph.