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Female education combats poverty, sexism
Last week, Georgetown Circle of Women launched a campaign to raise awareness and mobilize students to advocate for the advancement of female education around the world. As one component of its campaign, the group encouraged members of the Georgetown Community to finish this equation on paper: Girls + Education = _________. Students’ answers ranged from the powerful—“progress” and “opportunity”—to the witty—”more men in the kitchen” and “more Tina Feys.”
This is a worthwhile campaign because it focuses students’ attention on a tangible project that has far-reaching implications. The correlation between female education and economic development is a statistical fact, although skeptics debate the direction of causality in that relationship. The United Nations accepts that educating women is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty for entire families, as it allows them to pursue higher paying jobs.
At the root of the issue, unequal education is an effect of gender discrimination. Allowing women to attain the same education as men helps undermine this systemic patriarchy. Female empowerment in general gives women greater agency—to control their own fertility and careers, for example.
As one of the signs from the Circle of Women campaign puts it: “Girls + Education = common sense.”
While most of the signs produced by members of the Georgetown community promoted Circle of Women’s message, some featured sexist messages that indicate the importance of this type of awareness campaign. One sign read, “Girls + Education = Wife.” Another, “Better hamburgers in the kitchen.” These kinds of responses indicate a complete irreverence for the severity of the cause. Furthermore, they actively codify the very restrictive gender roles that hamper female education.
Education isn’t a privilege, it is a right. As beneficiaries of a formal higher education, Georgetown students should be mindful of the intersection between prejudice and educational inequality.
This campaign comes at a critical moment. Last Tuesday, 14-year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai was attacked on on her way home from school. Yousafzai was shot in the head and is currently in critical condition in London.
Despite her age, she is admired in Pakistan for her blog, which promotes gender equality in education. Since the incident, the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility of the attack. The group’s leader, Ehsan ullah Ehsan said in a televised statement, “Whom so ever [sic] leads any campaign against Islam and Shari’a is ordered to be killed by Shari’a. It is not merely allowed to kill such a person, but it is obligatory in Islam.”
These are the kinds of attitudes that awareness-raising campaigns like the one conducted by Circle of Women can help combat. Regardless of the tangible economic benefits of equal education, defeating sexism is a worthy goal unto itself—one that Georgetown students should embrace, not mock.