The impact of gender inequality in education is unmistakable. Over and over again, the statistics show that countries with the largest disparities between the number of girls in school compared to the number of boys in school tend to have weaker economies, slower economic growth, and higher rates of poverty.

For many poor nations, future growth and development will be the direct result of reducing gender inequality in education. That is their only path to becoming globally competitive.

The Ripple Effects of Gender Inequality in Education

What is Gender?

Gender is a social concept. Google defines it as “the state of being male or female.” Gender is not dependent on your sex, but gender roles are usually assigned based on your sex – whether you are male or female.

Gender roles are passed down from generation to generation and differ from place to place. They are societal constructs. Still, gender role and sex are often used synonymously.

Women, Education, and Dangerous Traditions

Throughout history, the world has known and grown accustomed to the pervasive idea that boys are stronger than girls. In many places, families are willing to do what is necessary to strengthen and educate boys to prepare them for success and independence as an adult. The same cannot be said for girls.

Every girl is born into a society that already has specific gender roles established for women. Those roles can be decidedly inflexible, depending on when and where a girl is born.

A woman’s role may be to stay home and take care of her family until she marries. A married woman may need to dedicate her time to caring for her husband, her kids, and her home.

In some cultures, poor families charge the daughters with the responsibility (or gender role) of becoming child laborers, going out to earn supplemental income for the family while the son attends school or learns a trade.

Often families do not emphasize the importance of education for young girls because of outside influences. In countries where there is no public education system, schools may be too costly, or too far away to send girls. In many cases, religious beliefs eliminate the need for girls to attend schools.

You may remember in 2014, the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 young women from their boarding school in Chibok because they were pursuing an education. To date, only a few dozen of those girls have been returned.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for women’s education, was only 15 when a member of the Taliban boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. Her only crime was encouraging other young women to go to school.

How A Lack of Education for Women Keeps Poor Countries Poor

The World’s Women 2015 report published by the United Nations says women make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults. Women and girls account for nearly two-thirds of the chronically hungry.

Around the world, 65 million girls are not in school, and a quarter of those who aren’t will never attend school.

The flipside is Unesco reports the number of the world’s poor people could be cut in half if all adults completed secondary education, the equivalent of high school. For many women, if they had gotten just one additional year of school as children, it would have increased their income by as much as 20 percent as adults.

The more educated citizens are, the more money they can earn, and the faster an economy can grow. The stability of a nation’s economy is the direct result of thousands upon thousands of individual households that also enjoy stability. You cannot have one without the other.

Having the Tools to Thrive

What would your city and state look like if half the poor people where you live suddenly had the tools to lift themselves out of poverty? The result would be more businesses, more jobs, more people working, and the desperation that leads to crime would evaporate.

Consider having better school systems, and more of them. Your state and local governments would enjoy a greater tax base that is the result of more people paying taxes, and everyone’s share of the taxes being less than what it is right now. Think of the blighted buildings and abandoned homes that could be restored and put to good use.

Think of the fresh, new crop of talented people, and the insights and human resources that would suddenly become available for your company, your startup, your women’s group, or your community association when women go from fighting to survive to orchestrating their own success.

Education can be seen as an option, or it can be seen as a necessity. The success or failure, the wealth or poverty of entire nations will ultimately be determined by how well a government prepares its citizens to become productive members of society. That includes women.

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