The Importance of Education
By Nadia Washlick, Program Coordinator
Education was deemed a fundamental human right by the United Nations in 1948. Its status undoubtedly lies in its unending benefits: access to quality education results in the social and economic advancement of individuals, their families, and their communities. But unfortunately, nearly 70 years after being deemed a fundamental human right, education continues to be denied to millions of women and girls across the globe.
Education is of particular importance to women and girls: without access to quality education, disadvantages faced by all women in a gender-biased world increase. While exclusion from education is not the only form of gender inequality, it is closely linked to all others. Uneducated women are left without options including opportunities for equitable employment, political participation, financial independence, and informed family planning. As a result, uneducated women are far more likely to be trapped in lives defined by poverty and exploitation, and are significantly less likely to raise educated, healthy children. Conversely:
- An extra year of education beyond the average boosts girls’ eventual wages by as much as 20 percent.
- A cross-country (U.S.) study in 65 low- and middle-income countries showed that doubling the proportion of women with a secondary education would reduce average fertility rates from 5.3 to 3.9 children per woman.
- On average, infant mortality declines as much as 10 percent for each year of a mother’s education.
- A 63-country study found that increased female education was directly responsible for more productive farming, which in turn accounted for a 43 percent decline in malnutrition achieved between 1970 and 1995, as well as an increase in gross domestic product.
Additionally, investment in women and girls’ educations is demonstrated to yield a greater positive impact on the entire family’s economic well-being than any other anti-poverty intervention.
Soroptimist International formally recognized the importance of education in the lives of women and girls in 2011 by adopting the Educate to Lead theme. This marks an international collaboration of Soroptimist members in all federations to achieve the common goal of improving the lives women and girls through education and leadership. Each federation has since been encouraged to concentrate their efforts on programs that ensure a meaningful, sustainable, and powerful global impact on women and girls through education and leadership.
SIA clubs had long been supporting this focus through SIA’s cornerstone program, the Women’s Opportunity Awards. Since 1972, SIA clubs have empowered tens of thousands of women with access to education through this program. With SI’s Educate to Lead theme in mind, and in support of SIA’s Increased Collective Impact goal, the SIA Board of Directors has affirmed access to education as the most valued approach to empower women and girls to lead full and productive lives. The Board has adopted a new core value to reiterate this: women and girls deserve to lead full and productive lives through access to education.
The Women’s Opportunity Awards program has demonstrated the extent to which education impacts the lives of women, their families, and their communities. Each year, surveys are administered to women who received the region-level award three years prior to gauge the impact of the program:
- 63 percent of respondents report being able to secure higher paying employment as a result of the award.
- 79 percent report an improved standard of living as a result of the award.
- 92 percent of respondents report they now serve as a positive role model for their dependents.
The impact of the award does not stop there. A remarkable 79% of all Women’s Opportunity Awards region-level recipients reported planning to enter helping professions such as teaching, nursing and social work with the intention of helping to improve the lives of others.
In addition to the Women’s Opportunity Awards, SIA clubs provide thousands of women and girls with educational and leadership training through local projects, including those funded by the Soroptimist Club Grants for Women and Girls:
SI/Marilao, Philippines Region, used its $10,000 grant to provide basic education and livelihood training for marginalized women to increase their chance at employment, productivity and self-reliance. Funds were used to purchase supplies such as notebooks, computers, printers, learning modules and product-making kits. Club members purchased all supplies, coordinated with members and trainers and supervised weekly educational and livelihood skills training sessions. Project survey results showed that after six months:
- 92 percent of women completed the course and indicated their self-confidence improved and they were inspired by the course.
- 44 percent of participants graduated and received certificates of completion, and of those 11 women and girls:
- five found employment
- three enrolled in college courses
- one enrolled in a vocational course
- one has a pending scholarship application to attend college
- one graduated from elementary school and is now continuing with high school
- of the 56 percent of participants who did not graduate6 found work using the skills they had learned
- four re-registered to take the program again
- two enrolled in formal high school education
SI/Twain Harte, California, Sierra Pacific Region, used its grant to facilitate three eight-week Girls Circle programs for 34 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls. The program focused on leadership and making healthy choices. The club conducted a similar program since 2011 with elementary-school-age girls. It provided participants with valuable interpersonal and relationship skills. Girls were encouraged to explore their own feelings, share their feelings with each other, and draw their own conclusions on topics such as friendship, body image, planning for the future, and more.
- 34 girls benefited from the project
- 100 percent of participants expressed strong, positive, trusting bonds with the other girls in the group
- 100 percent of participants expressed care and appreciation for the Soroptimist group leaders
- 100 percent of participants could name healthy coping skills, ways to be supportive to friends and family, and examples of what they were learning by the end of the program
- 100 percent of participants expressed strong interest in continuing the project in the coming school year.
Through local projects focused on education and participation in the Women’s Opportunity Awards program, Soroptimists are helping women and girls lead full and productive lives, and live their dreams. Clubs are encouraged to help increase SIA collective by participating in the Women’s Opportunity Awards program, honoring more recipients through the program, and by providing recipients with assistance beyond the cash award.
2013 SI President’s December 10th Appeal
For the 2013 SI December 10th Appeal, SI President Ann Garvie is enabling each federation to support the SI Educate to Lead focus in a manner best suited for the individual federations. SIA is excited to announce that the 2013-2014 SI December 10th appeal will operate in conjunction with the Soroptimist Club Grants: all funds from SIA clubs and members donated to the 2013-2014 December 10th Appeal will be designated for Soroptimist Club Grants focused on women and girl’s education and leadership. SIA feels this is the best way for the federation to promote the SI theme of Educate to Lead, as well as toensure women and girls have access to the education they need to succeed. The application deadline is March 13, 2014 and can be accessed here.
Carol Watson, Senior Adviser Education UNICEF; Addressing the MDGs and Targets for Education and Gender, Comments on Selected Aspects linked to the ICPD Programme of Action. Accessed September 13, 2013.
Catherine Bertini, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies: Page 20. 2011. <http://www.ungei.org/resources/files/GirlsGrowReportFinal.pdf>
Maureen A. Lewis and Marlaine E. Lockheed, The Centre for Global Development; Inexcusable Absence: Why 60 Million Girls Still Aren't in School and What To Do about It: Pages 25. 2007. <http://www.cgdev.org/content/publications/detail/11898>
2 Carol Watson, Senior Adviser Education UNICEF; Addressing the MDGs and Targets for Education and Gender, Comments on Selected Aspects linked to the ICPD Programme of Action. Accessed September 13, 2013. <http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/PopAspectsMDG/17_UNICEF2.pdf>
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