When you throw a tiny pebble into a huge lake, what happens?
From that one moment of impact, ripples start to spread. What at first seemed barely noticeable grows in size; its effects are magnified and felt far beyond the initial striking of the stone against the water’s surface.
Imagine that tiny pebble is universal access to education for all young women in every community, town, and country around the world.
What ripples of change could that moment of impact cause?
For starters, educated women have a greater “health literacy,” or understanding of basic health care, nutrition, and sanitation, and are more likely to seek medical attention. As a result, those educated to a primary school level are less likely to die in childbirth. If all women reached this benchmark, maternal mortality could be reduced by two thirds, which means 98,000 women’s lives could be saved.
For those women, finishing secondary school and expanding their health literacy further would lead to 50% fewer child deaths. That’s equivalent to three million fewer children dying.
Even more significantly, better educated women are more likely to participate in political and social decision-making. It’s been proven that more female political leaders mean fewer global conflicts and fewer deaths; a more stable, peaceful world.
But here’s the best reason for why educating women concerns all of us: mothers who have attended school are more likely to push for their children to be educated, and their children’s children will follow suit.
There’s the ripple effect: one tiny pebble can change life for generations to come. But we’ve got a long way to go before these reverberations can be felt.
At present, around 63 million girls of primary and secondary age are out of school. Let’s put that into context: that’s almost a quarter of the population of the U.S. or the entire population of Italy.
It’s for this reason that gender equality and the empowerment of women feature in the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals; a series of globally-backed targets that seek to transform our world. And while access to education has been steadily increasing, nearly two thirds of the 781 million illiterate adults in the world are women. This figure has remained unchanged for the last two decades.
For young girls, such as those supported by our partner, Volunteer for the Visayans, this is a painful reality. In the Philippines, 24% of girls aged 15-24 are not in school; children from low income families are often unable to afford the school fees necessary to access education.
For young girls in particular, these barriers are even more complex and socially ingrained. Gender roles place emphasis upon girls completing domestic chores, often at the expense of their school attendance. In some families, education is not a priority for girls who will ultimately become housewives and mothers.
How can you be the one to throw the first pebble?
Most of us reading this will have been lucky enough to grow up in a society that recognizes equality between the sexes as vital. One where equal opportunity, regardless of gender, is viewed as a fundamental stepping stone on the path towards human development and the good of our global society.
We’ve all personally seen what education can achieve and it’s our duty to continue supporting this cause. There are many ways you can do this; by sponsoring a Filipino child to attend school or further education through Volunteer for the Visayans, or by volunteering in an education program abroad. You can help young women to dream bigger: for their own lives, but most importantly, for those of the generations to come.
Together, we can prove how that tiny pebble will change the world for us all.
This blog was contributed by Steph Dyson:
Steph is a former high school English teacher from the UK who now travels, writes, and volunteers her way around South America. Passionate about education and how it can empower young people, she’s worked with various NGOs and charities in South America and hopes to pursue a career in international education in the future.