In March, Women’s History Month, Hideko Sera, associate dean of the University of Redlands School of Education, contributes her thoughts on the importance of educating girls and women around the world. Sera was an invited member of the 2015 American Psychological Association's Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology (LIWP).
According to UNESCO’s Education 2030, a collective international commitment to closing gender gaps and reducing inequality in education is desperately needed.
Worldwide, approximately 16 million girls will never set foot in a classroom, and more than two thirds of the 750 million adults without basic literacy skills are women (UNESCO’s Gender Equality in Education). It is often stated that educating girls and women is the single most effective way to improve the lives of all families and to enhance economic prosperity of struggling communities globally and domestically.
More than educational status or prestige, a strong sense of self-worth and of agency comes out of girls’ and women’s educational endeavors. Conversely, a lack of education hinders prospects and perspectives for girls and women who, worldwide, already face economical, sociopolitical, physical, and emotional disadvantages. For some, education is seen as a right. For others, education is understood as a privilege.
For many, education determines not only women’s possibilities and wellbeing, but also their communities’. Girls’ and women’s education has implications for health; in other words, educational disparities impact health disparities (and vice versa). Issues such as fertility, maternal health, child survival, HIV/AIDS risks, and income potential are some key factors identified by UNESCO as associated with the level and access of girls’ and women’s education.
So it appears that girls and women should indeed receive education.
Yet, when girls and women demand education it is often met with negative consequences. The story of a Pakistani activist for female education Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, comes to mind to illustrate this point. Malala, who survived an assassination attempt after demanding female access to education, stated, “I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.”
How are we ensuring that girls and women receive education to pursue their dreams and to fully actualize their potential? How are we fostering women leaders in education? What is our responsibility as we continue to face this global and domestic educational inequality?
For me, there are several ways to approach these questions.
First, we must promote and advocate policies relevant to girls and women, nationally and internationally. Without a safe learning environment and access to education, it will continue to be difficult for women and girls to receive education. Not only do we need safe learning environments, but we also need environments that optimize girls’ and women’s potential.
Second, we must recognize unique contributions girls and women make to education and build strong mentoring pipelines to foster such contributions. I call on men, as well as women, to take up this charge of fostering the next generation of female leaders.
Third, we must eliminate discriminatory and exploitive practices against girls and women, wherever they occur—in the home, in the classroom, or in the workplace.
As we stand on the shoulders of women who have come before us, we also have an obligation to girls and women everywhere to work to leave the world better than it is today.