“The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world.”
— Charles Malik
Sikander and Sindhu never wanted a girl.
In their home village of Nagpur, India, they dreamed of a different life – a life with sons. Yet whenever Sindhu gave birth, it was to a girl. They went on to have five daughters, each time hoping the child would be a son.
“In India, the boy is considered the higher of the house,” Sikander said. “I felt I needed a boy to help me provide in the future.”
It’s a mindset that is far too common, and the affects long reaching. With boys seen to be more valuable and their income generating potential higher, their wellbeing—and education—is commonly prioritised above girls in developing countries. And it shows – today, women make up more than two-thirds of the world's 796 million illiterate people.
But what difference can an education make for girls in poverty?
Sujata, a small loan client, helps her daughter Anchal with homework in their home in Rajasthan, India. “My daughter will do whatever she wishes,” says Sujata. “I work for my children. I will give her a good education.” Photo: Kim Landy
Educated girls are more likely to earn a survivable wage
A single year of primary school education can increase a girl’s future wages by 10 to 20 per cent and secondary education, 15 to 25 per cent.1 Uneducated women are more likely to undertake vulnerable employment, such as unpaid family work, rather than jobs that provide reliable wages. Education narrows the pay gap between genders and increases the likelihood of women finding sustainable employment.2 Keeping girls in school not only gives them agency over their own lives, but also better equips them to provide for their future families.
Educating girls leads to a decrease in fertility rates
Child marriage is the likely cause of three out of every four girls having children before the age of 18.3 Giving girls continued access to education means they are more likely to get married later, which decreases the fertility rate and family size to more sustainable levels. Educating girls in family planning and providing maternal health services results in lower fertility rates, which typically provides improved economic opportunity for women and girls.4 By giving women options for controlling how many children they have, they are able to make more informed choices for their families.
Educating girls has positive effects on infant and child health
Empowered and educated girls are better able to care for their children, leading to healthier families.5 A child born to a literate mother is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five than a child born to an illiterate one.2 Girls who have had access to education also know more about appropriate health and hygiene practices and tend to have more power in the home to make sure children’s nutrition needs are met. If all women had access to a primary education, 1.7 million children would be saved from stunting from malnutrition—or 12 million from malnutrition with access to a secondary education.2
Education provides girls with opportunities for leadership and growth
Giving girls access to education also gives them more chances for leadership at both state and government levels, as well as in their homes and communities. Educated girls have a greater awareness of their rights, more autonomy within their households and greater confidence and freedom to make decisions that will benefit entire communities. In many countries, limited access to quality education—and the prioritisation of male education—contributes to the cycle of poverty. Having educated females in leadership positions can help break that cycle.
Sindhu and Sikander with their five daughters: Ruchika, Ruzail, Komal, Khushi and Suhani. Photo: Kim Landy
As Sindhu and Sikander watched their daughters grow, they were determined to give them every opportunity they could. Being a low-caste family living in a slum community in India meant going without food in order to feed their daughters and working long hours to earn the income they needed to provide clothing, safe shelter and medicine. But their highest priority was sending their daughters to school.
“People here don’t want to see girls educated,” said Sikander. “They want to see them stay down. But I feel proud of my daughters. I feel a girl is the same as a boy – they should be educated equally.”
Today, with the same opportunity to learn and gain a proper education as the boys in their community, all five girls are excelling in their studies. The elder girls have even earned scholarships to college, and all five are making plans towards their chosen careers – Ruchika (26), a civil engineer; Ruzail (24), an entrepreneur; Komal (23), a bank manager; Khushi (17), a doctor and Suhani (13), a government official. Their dreams are possible thanks to their parents’ dedication – and the power of education.
At Opportunity, we’re dedicated to ending poverty – something that can’t be done without addressing gender equality. Whether it’s the cost of schooling or the potential loss of income when a girl is no longer working in the family home, education can be unattainable to families living in poverty. Through education fee loans and education improvement loans to increase the quality of community schools, we’re determined to change that.
Learn more about our education work here.
1 George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, "Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update," Education Economics 12, no. 2 (2004): 111-34.
3 World Bank: Report on Child Marriage
4 World Bank
5 UNICEF: Report on Child Marriage