Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.” Barakat operates schools and literacy courses for women and girls in South Asia, believing that equal access to education is crucial to reducing poverty in the region.
In many parts of the world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, girls are less likely than boys to attend school, be vaccinated, or see a doctor. A recent TIME essay discussed the importance of investing in girls in the global fight against poverty. “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world,” wrote Larry Summers while serving as chief economist at the World Bank.
Girls who attend school for at least seven years typically earn higher wages, marry later, and have fewer children than those with less education. Fewer dependents per worker leads to greater economic growth. Women are also more likely than men to reinvest their income in their families, buying things like books, medicine, and malaria nets.
Development experts say part of the solution involves providing girls with access to schools and health clinics with programs designed specifically for them. Helping girls realize their potential will require the support of entire communities, including mothers, fathers, teachers, and religious leaders.
Barakat has witnessed the vital role of supportive family members in our initiatives such as the Girls Scholarship Program in Pakistan. Scholarship recipient Surayya has four siblings. Her father is a carpet weaver and her mother is a tailor. She says, “My father wishes that all of his children get an education, but due to lack of funds he cannot afford our studies.” Surayya is fortunate to have parents that support her education rather than sending her to work, and with a Barakat scholarship she can continue her studies. “Education is not necessary for males only,” says Surayya. “I want to be a well-aware Afghan girl who is able to understand her rights.”
American girls are also getting involved in this cause. High school girls in the Boston area have held fundraisers for Barakat’s Girls Scholarship Program to support students like Surayya. The United Nations Foundation has started a campaign called Girl Up, which encourages American girls between the ages of 10 and 19 to give a “High Five” to girls in developing countries by donating $5 to provide school supplies, health check-ups, and more. Actions like these display how the next generation of leaders is already making progress to improve the lives of girls around the world.