It takes girls to raise a village

Developing countries lose billions each year by ignoring girls' potential, a report says

Published September 22, 2009 8:25PM (EDT)

It might seem a bad omen for the release of a report on the global importance of educating girls to coincide with reports of a bomb destroying a coed elementary school Tuesday in Afghanistan. But, while the news comes as a reminder of the extreme challenges facing girls' education worldwide, Plan International's report "Because I Am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls 2009" makes a strong case for why it's a fight worth fighting.

The report found that "there are over 500 million adolescent girls and young women in developing countries who could and should play a crucial part in the next generation's economic and social development -- but many do not have the opportunities for education or worthwhile economic activity." Since women are often restricted to low-level jobs, they tend to be the first to be laid off first during tough economic times -- and, perhaps you've noticed, we're in the midst of a severe global recession. As a result, schoolgirls are being forced to trade school for work and more girls and women are turning to prostitution.

Regardless of the economy's health, sexism comes with a hefty price tag: The report found that developing countries lose billions of dollars every year as a result of neglecting the earning potential of girls and women. School is the most rudimentary step: Each additional year of education increases a girl's future income by 10 to 20 percent. What's more, researchers have found that women put 90 percent of their income back into their household. The report puts it succinctly: "Educated girls mean the chance of a better life for themselves and their children, a more prosperous community, a better workforce, and a wealthier nation."

You don't have to be a feminist to get behind this cause; helping girls helps everyone. I guess the question is what level of extreme economic desperation it would take for that wisdom to take hold worldwide.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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