Luke 13:12:“When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
Catholic social teaching encourages us to ‘put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first’: Children, particularly girls are society’s most vulnerable population. Girls are most at risk of arranged child marriages, child trafficking, prostitution, domestic violence, and rape. Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women and girls.[i] Pope John Paul II asserted that “As far as personal rights are concerned, there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, and fairness in career advancements…”[ii]
Investing in education has shown significant efforts in empowering girls and women, and alleviating poverty. The promotion of gender equality is vital in attaining sustainable progress. Greater gender equality can enhance economic efficiency and improve other development outcomes by removing barriers that prevent women from having the same access as men to human resource endowments, rights, and economic opportunities[iii]
Columbans are also working to improve opportunities for women and girls. The Holy Family Home in the Philippines provides girls an education and The Columbian Parish of San Esteban Martyr supports girls’ education and women’s economic development through the Center for Human Development.[iv]. The Hope Worker’s Center in Taiwan provides opportunities for former victims of human trafficking to have dignified work.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized education as a right for everyone. According to the World Bank, 31 million girls are not in school[v]. Closing these gender gaps is necessary to achieve a more inclusive society. Gender disparity is still prevalent despite significant progress to narrow the gap. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) investing in education, especially for girls, yields:
- Benefits in health and productivity (provide better education and health care for their children)
- Increased democratic participation
- Women’s empowerment to address gender inequalities that put girls at risk
- Less child marriages and child mortality; reduced maternal deaths[vi]
The World Bank also reports that countries with the lowest standards of living and the highest rates of illiteracy are often countries that do not educate their girls. These inequalities leave girls vulnerable to violence, poverty and instability, which prevent nations from achieving economic, political and social progress[vii]. At a recent briefing that I attended on Capitol Hill, I had the privilege of meeting representatives from various organizations that are striving to close this gender gap in education, including the OECD. The OECD’s Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship “with the aim to promote gender equality in the economy in both OECD and non-OECD countries alike”[viii].
It is our moral imperative to strive and close the gender gap; Let us begin by ensuring that education is accessible to girls all over the world.
[i] Lefton, R. (2013, March 11). Retrieved from americanpress.org.
[ii] n.d. catholiceducation.org.
[iii] Worldbank. n.d. 27 September 2013. <data.worldbank.org>.
[iv] www.columban.org.au. n.d.
[v] “world development report on Gender equality and development.” 2012.
[vi] Ambassador Melanne Verveer. “Women and Girls: US Dept.of State/Bureau of International information programme.” ejournalusa 15.12 (2011).
[vii] (Ambassador Melanne Verveer)
[viii] OECD. n.d. www.oecd.org. 2013.