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Educating Girls: Big Payoff For $45 A Year


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. Michel Martin is away. Nigeria has been in the news a lot lately. That's since the militant Islamic organization Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls on April 15. Professed to be against Western education, Boko Haram took the girls away from their books and their teachers and have threatened to sell them as wives and slaves.

Over the last two years, the World Bank Group has researched the role that education plays in the lives of women and girls around the world. And their report was published yesterday. It highlights their findings. Joining us to explain is Jeni Klugman. She's the director of Gender and Development at the World Bank Group. And she's is with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Also with me here is Lucia Hanmer. She's lead economist in the Gender and Development unit at the World Bank Group, also joining me. Welcome to both of you.

JENI KLUGMAN: Thank you.

LUCIA HANMER: Thank you.

HEADLEE: So, Jeni, we get new reports about women and girls all the time, right? So what is so special about this one?

KLUGMAN: Well, I think this is special, not only because of the timing - as you mentioned, the tragedy which is unfolding in Nigeria, I think, underlines the urgency of the agenda - but the issues that we're dealing with in this report are about the denial of choice - girls who are unable to go to school, girls who are unable to make choices about whether and how many children to have, whether or not to get married, unable to own or inherit land, unable to make decisions at home. So I think bringing together the evidence from around the world about the gravity of these challenges and also what can be done, I think, makes it very timely, as well as new.

HEADLEE: Which is obviously a topic that the U.N. would be interested in. But the World Bank and you as an economist, Lucia, why is this an economic issue?

HANMER: Well, Celeste, when you see the difference that it makes when women get educated...

HEADLEE: Economically.

HANMER: ...Economically - to their lives, to their families. They - educated women can produce more in agricultural areas. Even really poor women in subsistence farming, once they get educated, they know how to use fertilizers, how to use seeds, where to go for information. It makes a massive difference economically to women, their families and their futures.

HEADLEE: So something - a word that gets used a lot is agency. Jeni, you talk about the importance of expanding women's agency. What exactly does that mean?

KLUGMAN: Well, agency is about people being able to make decisions that matter to them, to their families, their communities and their countries. And it relates to, for example, having a say over whether and how many children to have, being able to own land, being able to participate in public life. So it's very much about decision-making and capability to make and pursue decisions.

HEADLEE: So give me a story, Lucia, that kind of explains what you're talking about here. Is there any specific example that comes to mind?

HANMER: Yes, the benefits of education and getting girls into school. When I was in Zimbabwe, I did research. And I went to the field with a translator to ask women farmers what they needed, what inputs they needed, how their families were doing. I came back 10 years later with the translator to see how they were doing, and those women could speak English. They could understand. They could...


HANMER: They were surely speaking. They hoed the fields with a handheld hoe. But they could understand why I was there, and they could speak. And we find in our report, when we ask girls the difference between their lives and their mother's life, education comes top. They say, it gives us a voice. We can be heard. We have views. We matter.

HEADLEE: We have to talk about men and boys anytime we have this conversation about educating women. When Michel Martin spoke to Malala Yousafzai and her father, Ziauddin, last October, he said - her father - he was often asked what special training he gave to his daughter. And here's what he said.


ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: I usually tell people, you should not ask me what I have done. Rather, you ask me what I did not do, which is usually done by parents. I did not clip her wings to fly. And I always give a message to the parents all around the world where girls are suffering. Trust your daughters. They're faithful. Honor your daughters. They're honorable. And educate your daughters. They are amazing.

HEADLEE: So he, though, is an outlier. I mean, he's an exception to a cultural rule in many of these places. How do you get past, Jeni, these attitudes, which are often cultural and very traditional, among fathers and husbands that education is not necessary for woman, that in fact, sometimes, it's an evil?

KLUGMAN: We're learning a lot about what matters and part of the answer is around the expansion of economic opportunities. So we see in Bangladesh, another Muslim-majority country, that the expansion of women's economic opportunities led to huge increases in girls' enrollment in schools. And norms changing over the time were, I think, the realization of the economic value of education.

We also see in other areas, working with community elders, working with religious leaders and starting young with boys is very important. And there's, I think, good evidence now from around the world - from Brazil working in slums, from Burundi and Maloui - about the importance of bringing together programs which target directly boys and men because although we're interested in improving the outcomes for girls and women, working only with girls and women is very unlikely to bring the results that we're looking for.

HEADLEE: If you're just joining us, the voice you just heard is Jeni Klugman. She's director of Gender and Development at the World Bank Group. And also with me is Lucia Hanmer. She's lead economist in the Gender and Development unit at the World Bank Group.

The World Bank Group just published a report yesterday that's dealing with the effect that education has, not just on the lives of women and girls, but also, Lucia, on the economies of the countries where those women and girls reside. And I wanted to kind of get into that more because, you know, often many countries say they simply don't have the funds necessary to educate every child in their country. What response do you have to that?

HANMER: Well, Celeste, it's not that expensive. We - the World Bank has done some programs in Cambodia to see what it would take to get the poorest children into school, and $45 is what it takes. This...

HEADLEE: Forty-five dollars per...

HANMER: Annum. Per girl.

HEADLEE: Per year?


HEADLEE: Forty-five dollars a year.

HANMER: To the family, for a scholarship, for the family to allow the parents to buy school uniforms, to help with the costs of having a child in school. So for the poorest, it is not very expensive.

HEADLEE: Although, I mean, since, Jeni, we're talking about what's some of the later developments. And we've also mentioned Malala. She of course, became famous because she was shot by extremists. And these girls in Nigeria were kidnapped by extremists. How do you get past the fear, perhaps, in some parents' minds that by sending their girls to school in countries like this, they're making them a target?

KLUGMAN: I think the horror of these tragedies are almost incomprehensible for those of us sitting in Washington, D.C. What we try and do is appeal to the universal nature of the values that we're talking about. And I think that the clip you played from Malala's father, I think, gets at the humanity of the decisions. And I think, in most cases, that having a conversation with individuals about their daughters and about the aspirations for their daughters would kind of reveal, I think, the importance of thinking about, you know, girls as people, boys as people and, I think, our universal humanity. And working with, I think, local leaders, with religious leaders - the vast majority of whom are moderate - is going to be the long-term way to be able to enable change and to avoid the risks which are being incurred by these extremist minority groups in some parts of the world.

HEADLEE: One of the responses I've seen, Lucia, to this particular report from the World Bank is that now we finally have these numbers we have been waiting for. What are the numbers here that kind of connect education for girls to the economic growth of a country? Can we actually make - connect those dots?

HANMER: Not in a straightforward line. But I think what you have are general impacts on productivity, in terms of more education. We know that if more women were in the labor force, this would increase GDP from - of the country overall - from a range of between 5 and 10 percent depending on the country. So it makes a huge difference.

KLUGMAN: I would also add that it's important to be thinking about development, not just in income terms. And so what we document, in terms of the gains of education, is it enables girls to say no to sex. It enables girls to avoid child marriage. It enables girls to avoid violence when they become women. And these are very powerful and direct effects which are associated with high levels of education.

So we do systematic comparisons of girls who only have primary level education to those who have finished secondary school and those who have university education. And around the world, the differences are striking. And they're showing really major impacts, in terms of girls and women's lives and the lives of their families. So the gains, in terms of income, are important, but I think the broader gains are very important, as well.

HEADLEE: And how significant is it that the World Bank is looking at what, at heart, is really a human rights issue?

KLUGMAN: I think it is important that it's central to development. I think it's the recognition that development is more than about income, which I think is being much more broadly recognized around the world. And that we're concerned about kind of health and education and well-being more broadly, I think, is very important. The World Bank is not a rights-based organization.

HEADLEE: Right. Exactly.

KLUGMAN: It's an organization which is bringing development. But I think it's important not to overplay the differences. The synergies, I think, are very large. And so what we argue in the report is that the rights-based case is important. And it's one to which 188 countries - or 188 states - around the world have signed up to in the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. But it's also once which will bring development gains more broadly.

HEADLEE: Well, we only have a minute left. But, Lucia, do you expect the report to be persuasive? I mean, in some of these countries, I expect this is a difficult argument.

HANMER: Yes. But I think, as Jeni says, there are a wide range of gains from educating women. For example, women who are educated have a much lower chance of one-year-old children being stunted in their growth. So their education feeds through into their ability to make choices for their children that are good for them and good for the future. And this has to be persuasive for society overall.

HEADLEE: One would hope, anyway. Lucia Hanmer, lead economist in the Gender and Development unit at the World Bank Group. Jeni Klugman is also in that unit at the World Bank, as well. Thank you so - both so much for joining us. And this report is available online.

KLUGMAN: Thank you.

HANMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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