Educating women

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Temps de lecture : 2 minutes  

Des étudiantes sur le campus universitaire de Kaboul, Afghanistan. © AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel Dunand

Educating women is probably the biggest problem we face in the 21st century because it means putting right an injustice – gender inequality – and combating two of the world’s problems: overpopulation and poverty.

Today, 64 % of the 860 million illiterate adults are women and 57 % of the 104 million children not in school are girls. There are many reasons for this: cultural preferences and stereotypes that favour boys over girls, household duties, poverty, etc.

All the studies have shown that in a world with strong population growth, women’s own education is the most important determining factor in their fertility rate, not their social class, their income or men’s education. Women who go to school tend to marry later, are more likely to use contraception and prefer smaller families.

Even very religious regimes can change: in Iran, the lowered fertility rate was encouraged by the Mullahs from 1989 and it produced rapid results. The fact that women were also given better access to education contributed to this shift. Today, three quarters of married couples use a contraceptive method – this is the highest rate in the Muslim world. But the change is affecting the whole of the Muslim world. In Tunisia where the regime has encouraged the education of girls, the fertility rate fell from 6 in 1970 to 2 in 2010.

Moreover, the lowered fertility rate (if it is very high to start with) plays a part in the nation’s development. If parents have fewer children, they can look after them better. This ensures better lifestyles and better financial opportunities for future generations.

Educating people, especially women, is therefore a way of fighting poverty: according to UNESCO, each extra year of education increases the GDP per capita from 4% to 6%.

Students on the Kabul university campus, Afghanistan.

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