It is often said that when you educate a girl, you educate the whole community. Since we are still in the spirit of Women’s Day celebrations, there is something important worth reflecting on. We all know that girls of today are women of tomorrow and that smart girls make smarter women who later on become the smartest wives, mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers and the list can be as long as one wishes. Education as a foundation for development enables individuals to make proper choices about the kind of lives they wish to lead. When I talk about individuals, I mean girls and boys, women and men.
Educating girls is one of the strongest ways not only to improve gender equality, but to promote economic growth and the healthy development of families, communities and nations. According to World Bank, educating girls is considered fundamental to development and growth because learning and skills enable all people to live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.
As we approach 2015, I start reflecting on whether MDG 2 will be achieved by then. Achieve universal primary education (UPE): ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.
Studies show that keeping the girl child in school reduces child mortality and malnutrition; improves family health; delays the age of first marriage; lowers fertility rates; enhances women’s domestic role and their political participation in society; improves their functioning in the wage labor force; strengthens a family’s survival strategies still here the list is long.
Research shows that providing girls with an extra year of schooling can increase individual wages by up to 20 percent, while also lowering birth rates, which can have a profound economic impact. The benefits of girls’ education can also transmit across generations as more educated women have fewer children and provide their children with better health care and education.
Our society is heterogeneous, full of gender stereotypes and double standards. Girls can attain the required basic education but the question becomes how our society perceives that. Most girls fear that once they spend many years studying, men will fear them and they will not get partners. This is one of the major stereotypes that hinder girls’ education.
It is unbelievable when one looks at the number of female PhD holders here in Rwanda. This number is less than 10 to be precise. Even the urge for pursuing master’s degrees dates just a few years ago. I don’t know exactly how many women and girls are master’s degree holders here in Rwanda but at least something is being done in that angle.
There was this saying when we were still in secondary school that “you girls don’t have to toil much, there are future husbands out there who are toiling for you”. These are some of the community based stereotypes which act in favor of having secondary education and thinking that the next level is marriage and having children. I know some other factors have a role in this and I am just leaving them constant as we were always told to leave pi as pi. I am just saying that our society has to lend a hand by reducing or even eliminating those stereotypes which are in circulation so that we can encourage Rwandan girls to keep in school and study harder so that they become the smartest wives, mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers even after Vision 2020 has come and gone.
The writer is a scientist, writer longtime tutor and mentor for girls.