"No force changes the world more than a girl with a book. Girls' education may be the highest-return investment available in the world today." This observation was made by Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Op-Ed columnist when presenting the 2020 Holiday Impact Prize to CAMFED, the pan-African movement dedicated to educating girls.
CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education) is one of three precedent-setting non-profit organizations to which VEGAMOUR has made a generous donation to honor International Women's Day. In addition to CAMFED, donations have also been made to Girls Who Code and the Malala Fund.
Honoring International Women's Day 2021 on March 8, VEGAMOUR is a company dedicated to female potential in the wellness space: 86% of our team members are women. And we are happy to share our brand's success with organizations devoted to lifting up girls, and honoring the women they will grow up to be. VEGAMOUR has made three donations to these three organizations totaling $50,000 and we hope you'll join us in donating.
"Who Will Fetch the Water?"
In "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," the 2009 best-seller authored by Nick Kristoff and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, Kristof describes the responses of men in traditionally patriarchal villages, when asked why girls aren't sent to school. "Well, if we send her to school, who will fetch the water every morning?" was the memorably pragmatic response of one man with several daughters.
Worldwide, 130 million girls are not attending school. In much of Africa, South Asia and other parts of the developing world, the long-standing refusal to educate girls is linked to poverty.
Access to potable water is a significant factor. In many rural regions around the world, most homes don't have running water. Clean water is scarce, rationed and must be collected daily from a common distribution site. The distribution site may be many hours' walk from the village center, and someone indeed does have to walk to and from the distribution site every day carrying water so the family can drink, water livestock, irrigate gardens, cook, and bathe, sometimes twice a day. That "someone" is inevitably female.
Not coincidentally, many global programs focusing on the education of girls include the digging of community wells as a necessary step to creating a supportive infrastructure.
Education for women and girls consistently proves to be a keystone in building empowered societies. For example, educated girls tend to marry later, enjoy better health and have fewer children. The mere fact of smaller, healthier families has dramatic implications regarding land use, disease control, the impact of communities on their natural resources (water especially), and even mitigating climate change.
The Surprising Barriers to Gender Equality
In even simpler terms, many families can't afford basic school supplies: notebooks, pencils and a uniform to start. Many cultures regard girls as unsuited for daily school attendance, because they are traditionally isolated during their monthly periods. Gender bias is reinforced by the fact that few if any families in extreme poverty have access to the disposable feminine protection products which are taken for granted in the industrialized world.
Schools often are without running water, too. Sanitation facilities lacking privacy are often uncomfortable for girls to use, another factor which discourages them from attending school.
These factors coalesce, and in these settings, the family that only has enough funds to send one child to school will invariably choose a son.
Not surprisingly, in many countries, more than half of the girls will drop out before reaching the 6th grade, according to UNESCO. In these settings, the marriage of girls ages 12-14 is common.
CAMFED: Systemic Change in sub-Saharan Africa
CAMFED focuses its lens on the 33 million girls of primary and lower secondary school age who are not in school in sub-Saharan Africa. Identifying girls' education as a catalyst for social change, this organization identifies "the multiplier effect," meaning that education of a girl leads to women in positions of community leadership, and women leaders create resilient, compassionate global societies.
It is a demonstrated fact that educated women who earn a professional wage invest up to 90% of their income back into their family, while men typically invest only 30-40% back into their households. The United Nations has found that increasing the share of household income controlled by women changes spending in ways that directly benefit children.
This organization serves vulnerable communities and girls experiencing acute disadvantage. A barrier often experienced in the regions served by CAMFED is that a teen girl will have a baby, and thus is no longer welcome in the classroom. UNICEF estimates that approximately 650 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa. A significant part of CAMFED's work is to empower parents — fathers as well as mothers — to realize that forced marriage is a form of gender-based violence, and to break with generations of toxic tradition.
Girls Who Code: The Power of S.T.E.M.
STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — is the focus for Girls Who Code, a coalition of unapologetic tech girl-geniuses in the USA, UK, Canada and India.
Writing code is this organization's obsession, since women are historically absent from STEM fields. The mission: to close the gender gap in technology, by teaching girls how to program. Half of the girls reached by Girls Who Code are from underserved backgrounds: Black, Latinx, or simply living at or below the poverty line.
Tech fields offer tremendous potential in terms of future wages. But curiously, the gender gap in tech is growing, not declining. In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it's only 24%. Girls typically drop out between ages 13-17, and this critical span of four years is an area of intense concentration for the organization.
Malala Fund: The Schoolgirl Even the Taliban Can't Stop
In the 1990s in Pakistan, the Taliban outlawed the education of girls past the age of 8.
Malala Yousafzai would later write, “The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.”
Malala is the daughter of activists. She refused to veil her face, defying her country's fundamentalist rule.
In early 2009 at the age of 11, Malala began blogging for the BBC under a pseudonym about the Taliban’s use of intimidation to push women “…back into the Stone Age.”
She ignored the first death-threats she received from the Taliban, believing that not even the most radical extremists would harm a child who simply wanted to go to school.
Her activism won her a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.
Then, on the morning of October 9, 2012, when she was 15, she boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani district of Swat. Yousafzai’s face was uncovered, while the faces of the other girls were veiled.
A masked, bearded gunman stopped the bus and demanded, “Who’s Malala?” He then pointed a Colt .45 at her, and fired off three shots at point-blank range. One bullet struck the left side of the forehead.
She survived the attack, and today her foundation, Malala Fund, funds educational initiatives, local activists and networks, for girls in Brazil, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey.
In October, 2014, at age 17, she became the youngest person in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She used the prize-money to fund a new girls’ school in her home town.
In 2020, she graduated from the U.K.’s University of Oxford with her degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
Today, she is a leading global advocate for girls’ literacy and education.
Women Supporting Women
The value of educating girls touches on a broad spectrum of crucial social issues that literally affect the entire world. In many countries including our own, girls and especially girls of color are underserved and marginalized. The effects can be devastating, not only to the girl herself, but to every aspect of society.
Inspired by Malalas everywhere, we encourage you to volunteer as a tutor in your local library or school, mentor girls in your community, offer professional opportunities to young women, and donate when you can to the worthy causes we've outlined here and others like them.
The future is female!
Photo credit: Malin Fezehai/Malala Fund