Why 10-year-old girls can lift the world

A new UN report highlights how investments in girls at that critical age can do the most for global prosperity. This focus on their potential is a welcome change from simply highlighting their problems.

Reuters
Girls who escaped from forced early marriages take a selfie before their graduation ceremony after completing training at the St. Elizabeth girls center in Ortum, Kenya, Sept. 15, 2016.

Speaking at a conference this week, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai recalled a childhood friend in Pakistan who was forced to marry at age 11, ending her life as a school student. Ms. Yousafzai, famous advocate for girls’ education, said schooling means far more for girls than just reading books or passing exams. For many, it is a path to freedom.

“We need to inspire women to be beyond limits,” she said.

The tale of her friend makes a case for a new approach by the United Nations and many others trying to lift the world’s poor: Focus particularly on girls. In fact, focus on 10-year-old girls. They are at a critical juncture in their life in both challenges and potential. Investing in that demographic has the greatest prospect to improve less-developed nations, according to the UN Population Fund in its annual report this week.

The UN agency even puts a dollar sign on the worth of tapping this potential: If all the 10-year-old girls in the 48 countries with the highest gender inequality could finish secondary school, their earnings could add $21 billion a year to the total economy of those countries.

Right now, much of that economic potential is lost because of discrimination against girls. In many countries, daughters are seen as financial liabilities. The UN estimates that, on average, 47,000 girls under 18 are married each day. Twice as many girls as boys will never start school. And physical abuse or the threat of violence against girls teaches them to censor themselves in how far they can go.

Thus the UN report is refreshing in highlighting girls as essential for global development. “The future of 10-year-old girls will shape our collective futures,” the report states.

This is a welcome shift that looks beyond the problems that girls face and focuses on their capabilities. Just adding one year to a girl’s education, for example, increases her income more than every comparable year for a boy.

In her work for her nonprofit group, Let Girls Learn, first lady Michelle Obama has seen this issue close up. In a recent speech, she summed up what she has learned:

“The more I traveled and met with girls and learned from experts about this issue, the more I realized that the barriers to girls’ education isn’t just resources. It’s not just about access to scholarships or transportation or school bathrooms. It’s also about attitudes and beliefs – the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education; that women should have no role outside the home; that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter, and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard.”

Flipping around those attitudes requires paying attention to what girls have to offer. As the UN report reminds us, investing in girls can be the key to ensuring global prosperity.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.