Purpose of Blog:

This blog will be documenting my research concerning female literacy and related health improvements. My original project was to collect information and statistics from various sources and databases and create a cum
ulative source documenting the positive effect of female literacy on women and children’s health in developing African countries. Having completed this research paper, I am now maintaining this blog as a place to share my further findings on the subject of female literacy and its effects on health, etc.

Some quick facts:
Female literacy has been shown to have a positive effect on health because “educated women are more likely to be employed and to earn more than less-educated women” (Daniell & Mortensen , 2007, p. 278), “an extra year of girls’ education can reduce infant mortality by 5-10 percent” and “educated mothers are about 50 percent more likely to immunize their children than uneducated m
others are” (Herz & Sperling, , 2004, p. 4).

Daniell, B., & Mortensen, P. (2007). Women and literacy. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.
Herz, B., & Sperling G. (2004). What works in girls’ education? New York: Council on Foreign Relations Inc.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Half the Sky

"Women hold up half the sky" --A Chinese Proverb

I am reading a beautiful book right now entitled "Half the Sky," which discusses at length the situation of women and girls in the world, and how women and girls can become agents for change. It is a devastating read, but it is real, and discusses straightforwardly the things that we often turn a blind eye to, saying "how sad," and then moving on. Even more importantly, it discusses in great detail the solutions (the most encouraged one of which is literacy!) to these issues, and how we can make a difference. I love this part of it, because I feel like so many books leave us feeling depressed and discouraged, feeling totally disconnected from the plight of our sisters in developing nations. Not so here. I encourage anyone interested in the situation of women and girls to read this book-- empower yourself to make a difference.

Here are a few responses from well-respected humanitarians and activists:
An unblinking look at one of the seminal moral challenges of our time. This stirring book is at once a savage indictment of gender inequality in the developing world and an inspiring testament to these women’s courage, resilience, and their struggle for hope and recovery. An unexpectedly uplifting read.

Khaled Hosseini, author, The Kite Runner

I read Half the Sky in one sitting, staying up until 3 a.m. to do so. It is brilliant and inspirational, and I want to shout about it from the rooftops and mountains. It vividly illustrates how women have turned despair into prosperity and bravely nurtured hope to cultivate a bright future. The book ends with an especially compelling ‘What you can do’ to exhort us all to action.

Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and humanitarian

It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book about one of the most serious problems of our time: the worldwide abuse and exploitation of women. In addition to describing the injustices, Kristof and WuDunn show how concerned individuals everywhere are working effectively to empower women and help them overcome adversity. Wonderfully written and vividly descriptive, Half the Sky can and should galvanize support for reform on all levels. Inspiring as it is shocking, this book demands to be read.

Anne Rice

To learn more about the book, visit it's website: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/.

Rendering Women Visible

I recently wrote a paper about the "invisibility" of women in Public Health. I discussed how if women were made more visible in this field, we would see drastic improvements in the human condition. The following are some of the conclusions from that paper:

These appalling practices certainly highlight the list of health disparities, and emphasize the incredible need for something drastic to be done. Not only should women be treated as equals in global health simply because it is their right as human beings, but humanity has much to gain from their amelioration to full visibility. Research has demonstrated that “focusing on women is often the best way to reduce birth rates and child mortality; improve health, nutrition, and education; stem the spread of HIV/AIDS; build robust and self-sustaining community organizations; and encourage grassroots democracy” (Coleman, 2004, emphasis added). The face of public health would be utterly transformed with the full reform of female status to equal sharers of health opportunities and global visibility. Dr. J.E. Kwegyir Aggrey once stated that “The surest way to keep a people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family" (The World Bank, 2009). Certainly this statement holds true for the matter of female health, as well. When a woman is healthy, she will create a healthy family. Even women who are unhealthy frequently invest more time and effort towards their families’ health than anyone else.

Women are also often the most dedicated health advocates, as demonstrated in the film Water for Tounaumasse (Filmaker’s Library, 1987). First it took a female expert visiting the community, and then a group of women on the village council, to really get the power and ingenuity needed to establish a clean water source in the village. Women often have the most invested in their children and communities, and are the most willing to invest even more in the health of their loved ones. Frequently, women work longer hours than men and contribute more to the family income, even though they often make much less. Research has shown that when women and girls earn income, they “reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man” (Borges, 2007). Regarding work outputs, researchers in Kenya have concluded that if men’s average input levels were transferred to female maize farmers, yields would increase by 9 percent (Moock, 1976). Additionally, total household output could be increased by 10 percent to 20 percent if even “some of the inputs from the male-controlled plots went to the plots controlled by women” (Mehra & Rojas, 2008). If given these improvements, women would undoubtedly provide healthier and more frequent meals for their children, decreasing the staggering numbers of undernourished children in the world today. But in order for women to successfully accomplish this, they need to be healthy themselves.

Finally, if the unfathomable rate of maternal deaths in the developing world could be curbed, it is amazing to imagine the effect of the mothers who would live. Rather than opening new orphanages, we could be shutting them down. Mothers would no longer die unnecessarily in child birth. Reducing the current maternal mortality rate is in fact manageable, for the vast majority of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had “access to quality family planning services, skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the first month after delivery” (WHO, 2009). These fairly simple health projects would not only extend the lives of the world’s mothers, but deeply impact the lives of their children and communities.

As Secretary of State and former First Lady Hilary Clinton stated so eloquently, “What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations do as well” (Clinton, 1995). Truly, increasing, female health is the missing link to improving universal public health. Women around the world have forever been the nurturers of society, and have demonstrated that they are capable of initiating incredible change in the lives around them. It is time to truly address the “vulnerable” group of women by making them full partners in health and entirely visible as human beings. By empowering women to successfully achieve healthy lives, the whole world will be empowered. For as we’ve seen, to make a woman healthy is to make her family healthy-- and if we follow where that leads us, we’ll find the world a healthier place.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Girl Effect

Just found this fabulous site with a video that really nails it on the head-- girls are amazing! Check out the "Girl Effect" here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Female Literacy in Cambodia: A Neglected Potential

Here is an excerpt from a group paper I'm working on in my Education, Poverty, and Community Development class. My peers and I are evaluating Cambodia's current education situation and making recommendations about how to improve their education plan. This is the part I wrote concerning female education, the issues, and our recommendations on how to best address them....

The Situation of Female Literacy
Female literacy rates in Cambodia have always struggled, and the unfortunate truth is that they’re not much improved. The female literacy rate is held to be around 76% country-wide, while male literacy sits at almost 85% (UN Statistical Database, 2004). Even with these rates, Oxfam GB claimed in 2003 that only 22% of Cambodia women could read a newspaper or write a simple letter (The Situation of Women in Cambodia, p. 45). In addition to this sad conclusion, literacy rates in rural areas are even lower, with a gap between the male and female literacy levels that is considerable: 20.6 percentage points (National Institute of Statistics, 2004). Another institution records rates in rural areas as female literacy: 56.3% and male literacy: 71.3% (The NGO Committee on CEDAW and the Cambodian Committee of Women, 2005). It’s also been estimated that 50% of rural women are illiterate and have not completed primary school education (The Situation of Women in Cambodia, 2004, p. 37). Dropout rates are significant; the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association estimated that “only 60% of students completed primary schooling in 2003 and most of those were male pupils” (The Situation of Women in Cambodia, p. 45). In older populations disparities are even starker: “Among those 65 years and older, only 15.7 percent of females are literate compared to 71.4 percent among males” (National Institute of Statistics, 2004).
There are a number of reasons for these low literacy and high drop out rates. Three specific reasons for the low levels of primary education for girls in Cambodia are put forward in The Situation of Women in Cambodia:
The first factor is rooted in traditional stereotyping of women. In rural areas women are expected to undertake domestic work around the home and hence the efficacy of educating girls is neither understood nor perhaps accepted. In some instances education is even viewed as a hindrance to women as some men may not wish to marry an educated woman. Therefore in poor households priority is given to educating sons rather than daughters, who can be kept home to assist in domestic chores. The second factor is the availability of schooling. Underpaid and under-resourced teachers ask for informal enrolment fees from students to maintain the upkeep of the school and staff. In addition to these fees are sundry expenses such as pens and textbooks. Therefore in practice education can place a large financial burden on poor families that in some instances cannot be met. According to UNICEF, while initial enrolment rates for first time students are reasonably equitable, the aforementioned factors ensure a significantly higher drop out rate for female students in primary education (p. 46, 2004).

Justifying Female Literacy in Cambodia: Potential Effects on Poverty Reduction
There are a number of reasons to address the root causes of and ultimately the entire issue of low female literacy. Increased female literacy has been shown to positively affect a variety of factors that frequently keep developing countries in poverty. Female literacy is highly correlated with lower rates of maternal mortality: “Women with formal education tend to have better knowledge about health care practices, are less likely to become pregnant at a very young age, tend to have fewer, better-spaced pregnancies, and seek pre- and post-natal care” (The World Bank website, 2008). The lifetime risk of maternal mortality in Cambodia is 1 in 36-- certainly a notable statistic that needs addressing (Save the Children, 2006).
Additionally, female literacy can have a positive effect on gender disparities. It has been noted that a lack of education greatly inhibits women’s understanding of their rights to equality and protection under the law. This can make them “vulnerable to repeated cycles of domestic violence and abuse. It can also make it very hard for rural women to break out of the poverty cycle by finding off-farm employment in non-exploitative trades” (The Situation of Women in Cambodia, p. 38). The traditional acceptance of violence and discrimination towards women is perpetuated by the lack of both female and male education. Research shows that poor and uneducated women represent the majority of domestic violence victims (The Situation of Women in Cambodia, p. 14). Research has also demonstrated a relationship between increased domestic violence and growing poverty (p. 14). Therefore, reducing violence against women could become a significant contributor to poverty reduction.
It is also well established that “mothers' education has positive effects on child nutrition in developing countries” (Moestue, H. & Huttly, S., 2008). On average, each one-year increment in mother’s education corresponds with a 7-9% decline in under-5 mortality (?). This kind of effect is needed desperately in Cambodia where under-5 mortality is on the increase: the rates jumped from “115 per 1,000 in 1990 to 143 per 1,000 in 2005 (New York Times, 2007). Save the Children recorded infant mortality rates at 90 deaths per 1,000 children in 2006, an equally alarming statistic. Given the above noted statistic of maternal education with decline in child mortality, if Cambodia increased women’s education by even just a few years, it would nearly eliminate all child mortality.
Although Cambodia does acknowledge the need to address its neglected and deficient female literacy rates, not enough is being done to remedy the issue. In its’ “Fast-Track Initiative” much is said about the value of female literacy, while practically nothing is outlined to actually address the issue-- particularly the plight of rural women. Because “NSDP is a live document, capable of being adjusted and updated annually,” we recommend that Cambodia adopt the following specific plans to redress its negligent rural female literacy rates (Cambodia Plan, p. 1 Exec Summary). In the following sub-section we detail a specific plan to address the needs of rural women and their daughters.

Female Literacy: A Family Approach
The rural female population needs a plan that will address the root causes of struggling literacy rates: female stereotyping and lack of opportunity/expense of schooling. Our solution to address the expense of schooling is to provide government-funded scholarships to girls in rural areas. One of the major reasons girls in these areas don’t attend school is because of the fees associated with attending, which parents choose to only pay for their sons (if they can even do that). By providing scholarships for daughters, parents will be more inclined to allow their daughters the opportunity of attending school. Over time, this might also help minimize the stereotyping of girls as less valuable and as the lesser candidates for schooling.
Our second solution helps address the lack of opportunity and general stereotyping of girl students. One of the difficulties of attending school for these rural girls is the lack of familial support. We propose providing night classes for rural mothers and other female adults where they can receive literacy training through local methods. This might include the learning of khmer through agricultural study, or learning how to read by studying principles of small-business finance. This well help to not only empower these motehrs and women in their financial situation, but provide them much-needed literacy and the capacity to support their daughters in their studies. Given that these women are busy running households and caring for children, we recommend that these night classes be offered 2-3x a week, so that their evenings aren’t monopolized, but they still have adequate repetition to learn.
After these night classes are implemented and the adult women are beginning to learn principles of literacy, we recommend the facilitation of mother-daughter study groups. These could take place in the afternoon or early evenings, after the girls finish their half-day of alternative vocational primary school, and between or after afternoon work. These study sessions could be facilitated in local village centers, or small programs and lesson plans could be sent home with the mother/daughter students, where they could work on assignments together in their spare time. By developing these mother-daughter study groups, rural women and their daughters would be empowered for the first time, not only in literacy, but with the empowerment of a support group of other local women and girls. These study groups would encourage camaraderie and support in the difficult task of learning literacy, particularly in the face of potential sexism. The mothers and women will be better able to learn literacy in their busy, older age, and the young daughters will feel supported and encouraged by their student mothers and grandmothers.
We feel that although the concept of mother-daughter study groups is new, it will be effective in facilitating growth and support for women in rural Cambodia. This program effectively addresses the issues currently hindering the improvement of female literacy, and will ultimately correct backwards stereotyping and encourage female empowerment, to the benefit of all. As has been demonstrated in previous sections, the empowerment of women (particularly through venues of literacy) is very effective in facilitating poverty reduction and sustainable growth. As Dr. J.E. Kwegyir Aggrey said so profoundly, “If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate woman you educate a family.” We feel confident that this will hold true for Cambodia, and as the government extends its resources to support our recommended programs, the Cambodian people will see the miraculous result of educating their nation’s mothers and future mothers.

Monday, March 16, 2009

MNCH Conference

I have recently been invited to be a poster presenter at BYU's Global Maternal and Child Health Conference! I thought I would upload a picture of my poster, for your viewing pleasure:

World Bank Web Page

I just discovered a fantastic World Bank web page that details the importance of female literacy! Here are some of my favorite quotes and information from the page--

"March 5, 2009—In a speech to his fellow Ghanaians in the early 1900s, the visionary educator, Dr. J.E. Kwegyir Aggrey, declared, 'The surest way to keep a people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.'"

Joy Phumaphi, World Bank vice president for human development and Danny Leipziger, World Bank vice president for poverty reduction, in the foreword of the report Girls' Education in the 21st Century: Gender Equality, Empowerment, and Economic Growth stated:
“Women’s economic empowerment is essential for economic development, growth, and poverty reduction—not only because of the income it generates, but also because it helps to break the vicious cycle of poverty."

"Children of mothers with 5 years of primary education are 40% more likely to life beyond age 5."

"Especially hostage to under-achieving within the secondary system are girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, who live in small rural villages that are caught up in conflict, come from minority clans, or struggle with a disability."

"When the proportion of women with secondary schooling doubles, the fertility rate is reduced from 5.3 to 3.9 children per woman. Providing girls with an extra year of schooling increases their wages by 10 to 20 percent. There is evidence of more productive farming methods attributable to increased female schooling, and a 43 percent decline in malnutrition.

Educating women has a greater impact on children’s schooling than educating men. Young rural Ugandans with secondary schooling are three times less likely to be HIV positive. In India, women with formal schooling are more likely to resist violence. In Bangladesh educated women are three times more likely to participate in political meetings."

To read the whole article that these quotes came from, click here.

To visit The World Bank's web page on educating girls click here.