While reading through the wonderful, insightful Pullitzer Prize winner book Half The Sky, which highlights countless issues related to women all over the globe, one is enlightened of the dynamics of factors which can bring a real change in the lives of women in the world.
Whether it is reduction in maternal mortality, girl trafficking, change in social customs like female genital mutilation or women abuse the change can come only from within. And the secret to that change is ‘girl child education’.
Girl education is the key to women empowerment. Women empowerment in turn is the key to eradicate poverty.
“ Educating girls is the most effective way to fight poverty. Until women are numerate and literate it is difficult to bring meaningful change and contribute in the country’s economy”, say the authors.
Despite multiple factors playing their roles, studies have shown that, the solution to reduction in population growth, trafficking of women, gender based violence or female genital mutilation is SINGLE and it is girl education.
The local customs, culture, and family dynamics and the various factors which hinder the change need to be well understood . Bringing about a difference entails persistence and perseverance to bring slow and steady change and creating receptive audience at the grassroots level. Innovative ways may be needed to cause that change in thinking before one expects a change in practice.
The roadblocks may not necessarily be just the ‘big’ factors –but even trivial issues which we do not even give a second thought.
And motivation of girls is never an issue. They are always willing. It is the circumstances and the people around them who need to be convinced.
The authors recount, based on research, four cost effective ways to increase school attendance in either genders—
• ‘deworming’ the children( as worm infestation affects physical and intellectual growth),
• managing menstruation related issues( providing san napkins and toilets—as many girls don’t attend school during mens due to inconvenience),
• providing Iodised salt( as many communities suffer from Iodine deficiency which leads to brain damage) and
• ‘bribing’ ( providing financial incentives to the girl students for attending school.
The donors often assume that providing the infrastructure, like building schools, or giving books is the ‘way to increase’ educaton. But one may have to go extra mile(s) to ensure that the real purpose behind the building of schools is realised.
The World Bank ,too, points that excessive spending on education bureaucracy and school infrastructure, rather than on teaching staff and supplies, undermines the quality and quantity of schooling.
How to boost up the woman empowerment through education ?
For many of us first thing that occurs is ‘funding’–specifically foreign funding.
It remains a myth that in places with poor resources and conditions the foreign assistance or Aid through big agencies like UN, USAID, US govt.etc.(Treetop solution) is the key to any kind of development.
Rightly did the authors point out that Foreign Aid follows ‘Murphy’s Law’ ( the law states that anything that can go wrong shall go wrong).
The foreign aid may be well intentioned but it does not always work the way it is intended. Some prove to do the exact opposite of what is intended.
Many skeptics like, Peter Bauer and Milton Friedman argued point blank in the 1960s that aid is ineffective.
William Easterly with experience in WB says, aid is often wasted and sometimes does more harm than good.
Rajan and Raghuram published a study in The Review of Eco and Stats that : there is no positive or negative correlation between aid inflows and economic development of a country.
The literature on foreign aid and development strongly suggests that the usefulness of development assistance varies with the quality of a country’s governance and the economic policies it pursues. In countries whose policy environment is highly unfavorable to growth, aid is less likely to be productive and contribute to long-term development.
According to one group of scholars, “in terms of growth prospects and performance, no amount of foreign assistance can substitute for a developing country’s internal policies and incentives for increasing output and improving the efficiency of resource allocation.”
A wonderful example that the book gives of a failed purpose of the Aid is as follows:
A UN Project in Nigeria meant to empower women.
Fact: the women in Nigeria cultivate cassava ( a root like potato) and use it for the household. If in excess they sell it off and save the money and spend it on home and their children.
The Project: It introduced a variety of Cassava which would give three tons per hectare yield instead of the usual 800 kilos per hectare. They had a terrific harvest. But they had problems;
They could not harvest that bulk of the yeild and could not even have the capacity to process them.
The agency introduced processing equipment. But the fruit was bitter and did not taste as well. But with processing of the fruit the problem was dealt.
As a result the project looked a ‘great success’. The women started to earn good money.
But then the men came in and kicked women out of Cassava farming. Why?
Because as per the tradition the women raised staple crops and the men grew cash crops. And when men had extra earnings, they used it for beer. As a result, women had even less income that when they started.
Moral of the story:
The above case proves the futility of a well intentioned Aid, if it is not linked to the local cultural practices. And another point it highlights is that any sort of empowerment of woman can boomrang unless it is accompanied by women education.