Focusing on female education may be our best shot in the drive to eradicate poverty, according to political leaders, development experts, and even business leaders.
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, speaking to the U.N. earlier this year at his Goalskeepers event, said that an alarming concentration of poverty in certain areas should provide focus on how to tackle it. Gates said that research by his foundation suggested that 90 percent of extreme poverty by 2050 will be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.
"So what this means is that this poverty is going to be a feature of life in a few places and these are places where there are the fewest opportunities," said Gates. "Also, these are often places where the governance is not providing the primary health care or education even at a basic level and every one of these places are exactly where we're experiencing rapid population growth."
A common thread in that conversation on how to combat extreme poverty draws a straight line from education of young girls through population growth to greater prosperity.
"I always say," said French President Emmanuel Macron at the same event, "please present me with a lady who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight, nine children, please present me the young girl who decided to leave school at 10 in order to be married at 12." It should be noted, this statement did not pass without controversy, but African leaders have echoed the broad sentiment.
Dr. Joyce Banda was Malawi's first female president, and is a member of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health.
"When a girl stays four more years in secondary school in Africa in the village, it's not only about her future, it's about her health as well because then we will hopefully we avoid getting married at 11, at 12," Dr. Banda told the Global Goalscast. "In Malawi I've seen a 9-year-old bride."
More education allows young women to make better choices about their own reproductive health.
Alex Ezeh is an African demographer who wrote a section of the Gates' report on population in Africa. His research suggests to him that reducing child marriage and providing greater education to girls allows them more control over how many children they have, and thus their economic position.
"By having policies that prohibits child marriage, that's marriage to children under 18 years of age, we can significantly reduce the rate of growth of the population in many of these countries. If we invest in female education and we help girls go to school and finish primary, go to secondary, we know that many of these women with secondary education at least make different decisions with respect to child bearing, with respect to the investments they make in their children, with respect to other opportunities they may have in life.
Futher down the track, when those girls become women and they do have children by choic, that experience can become markedly different.
"They are more likely to invest in their children," says Ezeh, "and the children are more likely to go to school, so you have a multiplier effect of such decisions and investments."
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