What girls’ education brings to the world


Ann Cotton, founder and president of Camfed and winner of the 2014 WISE Prize for Education, has been fighting for twenty years to secure education for the girls of Sub-Saharan Africa.


On 4 November, Ann Cotton, founder and president of Camfed, received the WISE Prize for Education for her work in favour of girls’ education. The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) has awarded the Prize, dubbed the ‘Nobel of education », each year since 2011. In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Ann Cotton explains why girls’ education is crucial for a country’s development.

Camfed’s actions

Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education, was launched by Ann Cotton in 1993. At the time, she was familiarising herself with the situation in Zimbabwe, and realised that girls were prevented from attending school by poverty rather than by traditions.  ‘I thought that the girls’ lack of education was a cultural issue, that the weight of traditions explained why families preferred that their daughters to get married and start working early, rather than studying. (…)

In fact, in the rural areas, families cannot afford schooling for all their children (…). They often choose to send their sons to school because they know that, on an employment market that privileges men, they will be more likely to find a steady job and provide for their needs,’ she told Le Monde.

If money was the issue, she thought, a little financial help might go a long way towards enabling girls to receive an education.  Consequently, for twenty years, Camfed has been supporting women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, by funding their clothes, shoes, notebooks, school fees, transport, etc. Camfed accompanies the girls right through their schooling ‘to prepare them for higher education, train them in entrepreneurship, management or finance, educate them on hygiene and disease prevention and develop skills that will be useful in the world of work.’To date, theprogrammes in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi ‘have directly supported over 1,202,000 students to attend primary and secondary school, and over 3 million children have benefited from an improved learning environment,’ the website explains.

Empower the girls to empower the country

Ann Cotton has decided to fight for girls’ education because it is about the strongest lever for a country’s development. Girls’ and women’s empowerment have a long-lasting positive effect on the lives of those directly concerned, of course, but also on the community, the local economy and, ultimately, the nation’s development. According to UNESCO, 493 million women are illiterate (they account for two thirds of illiterate adults); 40% of countries have not yet reached parity in primary school, and 62% haven’t for secondary school. The regions of the world where girls are particularly underprivileged are the Arab States, South-West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. When they receive an education, these girls and women contribute to bettering the global situation:

‘an educated girl earns 25% more than an illiterate girl. She is more able to protect herself against all types of viruses; in particular, she is at three times less risk of contracting AIDS. She is more autonomous, marries and has children later. Her children are in better health and they are more likely to go to school. Finally, she contributes to the country’s economic health and to the democratic process,’

explains Ann Cotton. The importance of these effects can be explained by the fact that women often bear the double burden of poverty: they are just as poor as men, but because they are responsible for the household their lives are significantly harder. But when they manage to improve their income, for instance, it has an effect on the whole household and on their community, while men’s successes tend to benefit them only. All the more reason to support girls’ education: an empowered woman means an empowered country.

Photo © Juliya Shangarey


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