Earlier this week the Atlantic featured an article by first lady Michelle Obama calling out to the world to make a stand for girls’ education. In her article she acknowledges how crucial financial investments are to expanding the opportunities available to girls around the world. As part of the Obama Administration’s Let Girls Learn campaign, Michelle Obama plans to tour the Middle East stressing the importance of investments in women’s education. However, Obama is also using her high-profile to promote girls’ education by engaging with people to look beyond schools for change and to challenge and overrule the laws and practices that perpetuate gender discrimination and oppression.
In other words, women’s education can play a detrimental role in the expansion of women’s opportunities, but gender equality requires the consideration of more than just economics. Amartya Sen’s New York Times article touched on the issue of women’s empowerment in China. China’s unprecedented economic growth is widely seen as a consequence of the government’s aggressive education and healthcare spending. Women in China have not only entered the workplace, now making up 44.7 percent of the total, but also done very well for themselves by possessing over half of the country’s senior management jobs. In the same report, women admit that discrimination against female workers is still however very real. Sen’s article describes the shift in population dynamics as a result of the One-Child Policy that illustrate the country’s preference for boys. It has fueled selective abortions resulting in 100 male birth to every 85 female (compare that to the 100 male to every 95 female births in countries have little to no birth intervention). We see that women’s education has not eliminated the barriers of gender inequality.
Obama uses the US as an example of how the country can evolve over time to challenge the societal norms that undermine or physically oppress women. Incremental push-backs from “brave people– both men and women– stood up to change these practices”, but even Michelle Obama would agree that the US is far from being the global example. Staggering gender inequality as illustrated by the gender wage gap, no paid maternity leave, and underrepresented leadership are some ways of illustrating this, but the list goes on.
Women’s education is not a cure-all, but it can be the gateway to positive change, as Obama’s article makes clear. Changing attitudes and perceptions need to take root for lasting change to occur. Empowering women involves challenging societal biases that perpetuate inequalities and undervalue women’s accomplishments. We need to come together to address the 62 million girls that are currently not in school by doing more than just throwing money into education programs and hoping that things change for the better. Even our best efforts are meaningless unless we address the wider societal biases that continue to undermine women throughout the world.
Easton N., (2015, January 15). Why are so many women in China rich? Retrieved from /01/15/the-number-of-chinese-women-in-top-corporate-jobs-is-exploding/
Hill, K., (2015). The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Fall 2015). Retrieved from http://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap
Obama, M., (2015, November 2). Let Girls Learn. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/11/girls-education-michelle-obama/413554/
Sen, A., (2015, November 2). Amartya Sen: Women’s Progress Outdid China’s One-Child Policy. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/02/opinion/amartya-sen-womens-progress-outdid-chinas-one-child-policy.html?_r=0
Tatlow, D., & Forsythe, M., (2015, February 20). In China’s Modern Economy, a Retro Push Against Women. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/21/world/asia/china-women-lag-in-work-force-especially-in-top-jobs.html