Can Educating Girls Also Ease Environmental Pressures?

06/15/2010 11:18 PM

Among the many benefits of educating girls in Africa is its potential for reducing population pressure, Camfed International Director Ann Cotton said at the Footprint Forum Conference public day. Girls’ education has moved center stage from being viewed as a gender and equality issue to one that is increasingly seen as central to global security and the elimination of poverty, Cotton said.  “Every child is born to a mother, and when a child is born to a mother who is not educated, that child is at a disadvantage from the start.”

Educating girls also has a significant impact in reducing family size, an important issue in impoverished regions where access to basic resources can be a challenge.  “In Zambia, in all of the schools in which we work, we’ve seen a reduction in pregnancy by 90 percent,” Cotton said.

By funding the relatively minimal costs that it takes for a girl to acquire the school books and uniforms she needs to attend school, Camfed has enabled 400,000 young women to complete an education. Some 14,000 of those young women have gone on to be ambassadors for positive change in their countries and their communities.

“When change is coming from the outside, it is far less likely to be significant,” Cotton told attendees. Girls who would have been resigned to a life of illiteracy and poverty are now influencing at the highest levels, speaking to organizations such as the World Economic Forum and the United Nations.

When Cotton researched the issue of why girls in Africa were not educated as widely as boys, she discovered it wasn’t because of cultural attitudes, but because of poverty. “The opportunities are clearly profound, if we are not talking about attitudinal change, which is very difficult, but about the material costs of sending girls to school.”  Camfed’s work is an example of how seizing on the right opportunities can enable widespread transformation, said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel.

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