Although incredible progress has been made since the women’s rights movement of the 1960s, women still face significant barriers to equal participation in public life.
UN Women recently reported, for example, that women currently serve as heads of state or government in 22 countries. This sounds like good news… until you realize that 119 countries have never had a woman leader, and only 25 percent of all national parliamentarians are women.
Until women are represented at an equal level in the public and political sphere, we cannot consider our societies to be truly democratic.
We should also bear in mind that when women occupy positions of power, everybody experiences benefits. According to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, it results in better outcomes for society as a whole, especially in areas such as health, infrastructure, and education.
Empowered women play a role in promoting education, then, but this relationship is not one-sided. In fact, education is a critical tool in the empowerment of women.
Read on to find out how access to education can change individual women’s lives and fundamentally alter women’s positions in society.
5 ways that education can be used to empower women:
- Women can make better health choices.
Biology was historically used to exclude women from education, thanks to the permeation of misogynist myths such as the belief that the menstrual cycle makes women less capable of learning.
When women are educated about their health, they make more informed choices for their lives. For example, they are more knowledgeable about nutrition and sexual health, so they’re better equipped to protect themselves, plan their families, and advocate for the healthcare they need.
Regardless of gender, formally educated citizens have been proven to enjoy longer lifespans than their uneducated equivalents. This is especially true in wealthier countries.
- Women can exercise more agency in their own lives.
Women who have had children at a young age face significant obstacles in accessing educational opportunities. When young women are educated, they are more equipped to make informed choices about their futures.
Education opens up possibilities. It allows women to imagine futures beyond motherhood and house-based work, should they wish to.
If and when an educated woman decides to start a family, she and her children will benefit from her increased access to knowledge. The Population Reference Bureau has reported links between education and reduced child and maternal deaths as well as improved child health.
- Education provides pathways out of poverty.
As Oxfam reports, the majority of the world’s poor are women. This is due to a combination of reasons that vary in severity from culture to culture. In general, women’s labor is often undervalued, and there is an expectation that women are naturally responsible for unpaid care work. These factors play a large part.
Global Citizen research shows the impact that education can make. For example, even if a woman attends secondary school for just one year, this education experience can increase a woman’s lifetime earnings by up to 20 percent.
For many women, education might mean the difference between living in poverty, or living a dignified life in which basic needs are met.
- Education can increase the political participation of women.
Until the people in power reflect the population, we can expect many needs to remain unmet. When women are better represented in politics, women’s voices are heard, and issues that impact women are more likely to be centered in public discourse.
A study undertaken in Kenya found that the experience of secondary education made young women more politically informed and less deferential to political authority. This suggests that educated women could be a powerful and disruptive force, driven to challenge the status quo.
- Education can help women overcome employment segregation.
It’s no coincidence that some of the lowest paying professions are dominated by women: cleaning, caring, and catering are commonly considered “women’s work.” Even within female-dominated professions, such as secondary school teaching, leadership roles tend to skew towards men disproportionately.
As women become more educated, they can obtain the specialist skills that qualify them for more diverse positions. A population with more educated women is also less likely to subscribe to the irrational gender stereotypes that drive employment segregation. This results in expanded opportunities for women.
Women and education: ten facts you should know
- Worldwide, 5 million more girls are out of primary school compared to boys.
- Canada has the most educated female workforce in the world, followed by Norway and South Korea.
- The countries with the highest percentage of women politicians globally are Rwanda, Cuba, and the United Arab Emirates.
- Men are nearly five times more likely than women to earn the highest salaries in Britain, over £150,000 a year. Men are eight times more likely to be earning more than a million a year.
- The first schools for girls in Europe were opened in France in 1868 and Russia in 1764.
- In 1678, Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman ever to be awarded a Ph.D.
- Women make up just 28% of the workforce in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
- Over the last 20 years, women business owners in the USA have increased by 114%.
- There are 796 million illiterate people in the world, and women make up more than two-thirds of them.
- Girls are more than twice as likely as boys to lose out on education in conflict zones.
Advocates for Women’s Education:
Malala Yousafzai: the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to girls’ education in the face of violent opposition.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: the former President of Liberia advocated for African governments to invest in girls’ education as a way to tackle poverty.
Zainab Salbi: an Iraqi author and activist especially concerned with girls who are deprived of educational opportunities in conflict zones.
Julia Gillard: the former Prime Minister of Australia who now advocates for equal access to education through the UN’s Girls Education initiative.
Julieta Martínez: a Chilean activist who advocates for an understanding of gender equality, education, and climate justice as interconnected issues.