Kavita N. Ramdas is Executive Director of Ripples to Waves: A Program on Social Entrepreneurship and Development at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. She also provides leadership and direction for the largest grant-making foundation in the world focused exclusively on supporting international women’s human rights, The Global Fund for Women, where she is a former President and CEO, and remains as a senior advisor. She recently penned the following article, printed in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
What’s Sex Got to Do with It?
An inconvenient truth is hiding behind the current excitement about educating girls.
Girls are hot. Reproductive rights are not. This is the strange and yet unspoken contradiction endemic in the current development discourse about gender equality. From the boardrooms of Exxon Mobil, to the World Bank, to the offices of the Nike Foundation and the overflowing halls at Davos and the Clinton Global Initiative, you can hear people talking about the importance of investing in girls. Women are often added as an afterthought-their inclusion is often phrased as “girls and women” rather than as “women and girls.” Most often you hear that “educating girls” is the magic bullet of the 21st century.
The last time I heard something being prescribed as often as the solution to everything from low GDP rates and malnutrition in infants to endemic poverty, it was the early 1990s and the buzz was about something started by a Bangladeshi man named Muhammad Yunus. Girls’ education is the new microfinance. Yet educating girls about their sexuality and providing funding for access to contraception, safe and legal abortion, and broad education about their reproductive health and rights-which was a significant emphasis of global philanthropy in the 1980s and 1990s-has now dwindled in popularity. Although a few dedicated foundations and the European bilateral aid donors continue their commitment to organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund, the new global actors are focused on girls’ access to schools and learning.
Proponents of girls’ education (of whom I am one) are right about many things. Girls who are educated are, in the long run, likely to marry later, bear fewer children, educate their own children, and be less vulnerable to sexual abuse and coerced sex (and therefore less likely to be infected by sexually transmitted diseases). These outcomes have important positive implications for the poorest developing countries that are still struggling to expand their economies and provide basic services to their citizens. Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University, who was widely criticized for his 2008 comment about women’s lack of natural aptitude for science and math, was once considered the guru of girls’ education. During his tenure as chief economist at the World Bank, he argued that investing in girls was among the most effective development choices that poor countries could make in their march toward economic and political development. Yet while these outcomes are encouraging, we need to remember that girls deserve the right to be educated, even in the absence of such results, simply because they are human beings and because women’s rights are human rights.
To read the full article, please click here: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/whats_sex_got_to_do_with_it