Education empowers a woman in many ways, especially her capacity to control and make decisions about her own life. This is because the skills girls acquire in school help to create “pathways” to better employment opportunities and health outcomes. They also learn how to communicate, negotiate and engage in the world. But education can be even more empowering with an explicit focus on teaching gender equality and leadership skills to girls.
Ensuring school curricula, teaching materials, and teachers reflect principles of gender equality helps to empower girls and to make them equal to boys. Additionally, when teachers explicitly teach issues of gender equality, girls gain tremendously.
Prerna, a girls' education program in India, serves some of the country's poorest girls, yet students outperform national and state averages on indicators of attendance, completion, and language and mathematics achievement. Gender equality is built into the school’s curriculum and taught like other subjects with the goal of developing girls’ ability to challenge and resist discrimination while rising above it.
Female Mentors and Role Models
Exposure to female leaders improves perceptions of female leaders and weakens gender stereotypes about roles and norms among boys and girls, and men and women. It also significantly increases parents’ aspirations for their daughters and adolescent girls’ aspirations for their own education and careers.
In India, in villages with a female leader for two election cycles, the gender gap in parent’s aspirations for their daughters and sons closes by 20 percent and the gender gap in an adolescent’s aspirations closes by 32 percent.
Leadership skills, such as decision making and negotiation, equip girls with knowledge that allows them to navigate adolescence, relationships, and the world of finance and savings. Life skills education, leadership opportunities, and extracurricular activities like sports offered at an early age through adolescence are essential for the empowerment of girls and women, enabling them take control of their education and health.
A three-year program aimed at empowering girls and teaching leadership skills through sports in Bangladesh increased girls' scores on an index of leadership competencies. For example, 75 percent of the girls active in the sports program identified themselves as leaders compared to just 31 percent of girls not in the program.
Strong Bridges to Work
Education empowers women by giving them access to better work opportunities and higher earnings. However, in many countries women are discriminated against in the workplace and girls are denied an education because their families do not think they will enter the workforce in the future. Effective strategies to overcome these barriers include a focus on bridging the gap between school and work by providing job-specific training, high-quality schooling, career counseling, and working to change perceptions about women and work.
In Madagascar, for example, an intervention that provided parents and students with statistics on the average earnings associated with each additional level of education dramatically improved parents' perceptions on the returns to education, thereby increasing enrollment by 3.5 percent. Students also performed better after learning the labor market value of school. The test scores of those who under-estimated the returns to their education increased by more than 4% in just two months.
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