Malala and the Girl Effect

My just-turned-five year old son Grant loves preschool. Friends, books and the playground delight. Art projects are amazing creations of random feathers, macaroni, dried leaves, and thick paint topped with a sprinkle of glitter. He proudly draws a G, but struggles the other letters in his name. He’ll get there soon enough, I know. Grant has every reason to hope for a wonderful future and a great education here in Fargo, ND. But if he were a girl in Pakistan or an Asian or African country, his future might be much different.

Malala Yousafzi, a 15-year old schoolgirl lies in a London hospital, air-lifted from Pakistan after an assassination attempt by the Taliban a few weeks ago. This nominee for the International Children’s Peace Prize was shot in the head while riding the bus home from school. Her crime: believing that girls deserve the right to education, and having the courage to speak out through her blog The Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl. She began writing at the age of 11, and her blog was picked up by the BBC. This glimpse into her world focused global attention on the issues of girls and women in developing countries. Malala continued to speak and write, despite death threats. There are many difficult stories of child brides, forced prostitution, and murder.

Sonia Nassery Cole, a Pakistani American and documentary producer of the soon to be released film Black Tulip, states “we must not let the Malala moment pass. We need to recognize the common aspirations of most families in every country; to refuse to let any religion be hijacked; and to insist on giving all individuals both basic human rights and education, which is the path to understanding and personal improvement. In the region of my birth, as Malala’s plight makes clear, women are both the battleground and our greatest hope.”

The International Day for Girls was celebrated a few days after Malala’s attempted murder. Through a campaign called The Girl Effect. bloggers and writers around the world were encouraged to share the facts and their thoughts about the plight of girls in developing countries.

Little research has been done to understand how investment in girls impact economic growth and the health and well-being of communities. This lack of data reveals how pervasively girls have been overlooked in the developing world, where there are often no systems to record their birth, their citizenship, or even their identity. What we do know, suggests that their impact is profound, with a ripple effect of positive or negative consequence depending on girl’s well-being.

  •  When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.
    (United Nations Population Fund State of World Population 1990.)
  •  An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent
    (George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].)
  • Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between better infant and child health and higher levels of schooling among mothers.
    (George T. Bicego and J. Ties Boerma, “Maternal Education and Child Survival: A Comparative Study of Survey Data from 17 Countries,” Social Science and Medicine 36 (9) [May 1993]: 1207-27.)
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.
    (Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.)
  • Today, more than 600 million girls live in the developing world.
    (Population Reference Bureau, DataFinder database, http://www.prb.org/datafinder.aspx [accessed December 20, 2007].)
  •  More than one-quarter of the population in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa are girls and young women ages 10 to 24.
    (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision,” http://esa.un.org/unpp, and “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision,” www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WUP2005/2005WUP_DataTables1.pdf.)
  • The total global population of girls ages 10 to 24 –already the largest in history — is expected to peak in the next decade.
    (Ruth Levine et al., Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda [Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2008].)
  • Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls.
    (Human Rights Watch, “Promises Broken: An Assessment of Children’s Rights on the 10th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/promises/education. html [December 1999].)

Given the chance, girls like Malala are uniquely capable of investing in their communities and making their lives, and the lives of their brothers, sisters and communities, better. This is the ripple effect that happens when girls are given the support to realize their full potential. This is the Girl Effect. To unleash it, we need to make the great, untapped, potential of girls known and visible both in their own societies and the rest of the world. Girl Project

There can be no greater return on investment than by helping girls around the world achieve their dreams for a happy and healthy life. Where to start? Follow Malala’s story. Read the book Half the Sky, or watch the companion PBS special. Locally, Deb Dawson started a school for girls in South Sudan. Read here for more info africansoulamericanheart.org We all benefit, including my son Grant, from a brighter future for girls.

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