The Girl Effect – catalyzing positive change

This morning on Twitter, Idocente pointed me to The Girl Effect. WOW! As some of you know, I have been a champion of the GiGis (Girl Geeks in service of the World Cafe community) and have long been a (prejudiced) champion of females in changing the world. So it is no surprise I had a positive response to this site.  Take a look at the video.

Over breakfast today in Bonn, where I’m doing some work this week, my friend Ulf and I were talking about where we have seen positive change take place.  (Check out his cool work with Science-Connects.) We shared stories about how things seem to work better from the ground up. Where people with passion and ownship make things happen, building on assets and in spite of barriers. Girls and women are certainly catalysts for this in many parts of the world. Take a look at this data from The Girl Effect fact sheet (pdf).

  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. (United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990.)
  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent. (George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].)
  • Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between better infant and child health and higher levels of schooling among mothers. (George T. Bicego and J. Ties Boerma, “Maternal Education and Child Survival: A Comparative Study of Survey Data from 17 Countries,” Social Science
    and Medicine 36 (9) [May 1993]: 1207–27.)
  • 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. (Phil Borges, with foreword by Madeleine Albright, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World [New York: Rizzoli, 2007], 13.)

Since I was in Israel and Palestine last month, I have been struggling on how to write about my experience in a way that is not about judgement, but about reflecting what I saw. The tyranny of person over person is heartbreaking, regardless of the reasons and justifications we create. But from what I saw and learned about, women and children are victims as Israel and Palestine continue without a solution for sustainable peace. The statistics around maternal and child health paint a compelling picture that war, occupation, and the patterns that trigger them are bad for women and children. High levels of maternal depression correlate with poor child nutrition. Raising rates of stunting in children from persistent malnourishment (low nutrition and poor nutrition) are staggering. Cultural challenges that resist healthy patterns of breast feeding and trigger increased poor child health and adult obesity and heart disease in Palestinians.

Where is the hope for something better? For basic human rights of food, shelter, clothing, clean food and water and yes, even peace?

It is with the women.

The women of Palestine and Israel, both, who build bridges across the divides were the most compelling points of light I experienced amongst the bleakness that presented itself. At the conference I was attending, I met a midwife who works for the Jazoor Foundation for Health and Social Development who gave me one of the few moments of light and hope I felt during my visit. She was passionate about her profession of helping women have healthier babies. She was passionate about teaching others to be midwives, even amongst professional disdain from other health care professionals. (US midwives will remember the time when they were dismissed by doctors, and are now an important part of the maternal child health system.) Her brains, her heart, her attitude radiated light. She worked with other amazing, passionate advocates for health, social development and peace in the organization, led by another brilliant, passionate woman. (I’m kicking myself for not having her name handy, but it is on my home computer and I’m on the road!)

Women who are catalyzing positive change.

I would name this radiant midwife, and share a short video we made of her, but I have not asked her permission. I’ll try and remmber to do that when I get home to let you experience a bit of her light.

So the message of The Girl Effect site resonated with me this morning. Wherever we work – in businesses, education, non profit, or independent spirits in the world, what are we doing to foster this light in girls and women? Because so far, they are the best bet I can see for making positive change in the world. By no means am I dismissing boys. But girls are so often dismissed, when they may be the best chance we’ve got.

(A small suggestion to the Girl Effect folks. Your about page is in flash, making it hard to copy and share the stats. Yes, I know I can download the data, but that is one more step. Plus data is still locked in a PDF. For strong virality, making it simpler and easier may be more important than making it slick. )

12 thoughts on “The Girl Effect – catalyzing positive change”

  1. Thanks for your post. As you point out, the entry page is in Flash. Not only is this hard to copy, unless one has a relatively robust and contemporary computer, it will crash on playing the video. Mine did. And mine crashes 50% of the time when I try to open a PDF as well.

    Virality is important, and the changes you suggest will help The Girl Effect achieve that, but before virality comes accessibility. Not everyone in the world has a MacBook Pro.

  2. Nancy, when I did a Master’s degree in Development Studies – over 20 years ago, there was a compulsory module on women (“girls”) where we saw that research has been showing all this for a long time.

    There is something hugely wrong that we are taking so long to do something about it.

  3. raincoaster – I hear ya!

    Bev, how much of our “ignoring of the data” has to do with our own national and institutional sexism and how much to do with the nature of patriarchal and tribal societies?

  4. I liked `girl-effect’. It is not new for us. Our Gandhi ji advocated the same long ago and it started about 60 years back in our family. But I very much liked the way it is told. I now realized the beauty of a presentation sans pictures.

    By the way, I am investing in one… I hope to support others in future.

    In India there are people who desert girl babies…but there are also couples who fondly opt to adopt girls.

  5. I was still thinking about the `girl effect’ over my cup of coffee and it occurred to me that it need not be always `education’, it could be even enlightenment …sorry it sounds too big a word. Awareness creation, motivation through live real examples of success stories and improving emotional intelligence will be a better approach. Very often education is being overemphasized and is becoming counter productive.

  6. Hi Nancy–
    Just found your site via Dave Pollard–
    I posted the youtube in my facebook and on the website I host.
    I worked for Planned Parenthood in the early 1980’s and was convinced at that time, that the accessibility of contraception was one of the most important factors in changing global poverty. This project takes the discussion to the next level. Thank you so much!!

  7. Love it.Thanks so much for sharing!

    Passion seems to be the key/People who are proud and carry out their job with care – that’s the way forward.It used to be called vocation. It should not come as a surprise thought, but these days it’s so rare.. that’s a shame!

  8. This pisses me off. Why can’t the millions of girls in the West who DO have schools and clean water get their cows and start herds and get on village council – and when they DO all that, why isn’t the world fixed?

    And HOW does a girl with 7 years of education have fewer children? Because she’s richer, she’s a consumer, and she doesn’t have TIME for more children.

    Raising the standard of living means raising the ecological footprint. Yes it reduces the birth rate, but that is not the point. The point is lowering the ecological footprint.

    Never give money to foreign aid organizations. Instead, go and talk to a real girl, in the real place, and do something real, and never mind the preaching.

  9. Laura – I think you are raising a really important, overlapping, but separate point. Overconsumption (starting with me, yes, I know!) in the West has a cascade effect on development globally. It is not sustainable.

    But my experience has shown this is not just about higher standards of living from a consumer perspective, but about basic rights of clean water, food, shelter and education. AND, about a girl/woman having respect and not be treated as property herself.

    This is complex and your caution reminds us not to oversimplify it. And the importance of change the world and start at home. Both in terms of our own consumption and the support we give girls in our lives, every day. Like Ken is noting in his comment.

    Sugunasri, I guess I should have used the word “learning” — which can be anything, including learning to live into our own passions (yes, Cristina!). Education implies the formal – and often patriarchal. Learning, in my mind, would encompass everything you noted.

    Beth – amen to freedom to choose! And even better, the knowledge to make choices early that create less anguish.

  10. Tēnā kōrua, Laura and Nancy,

    I have always believed that this is a complex issue – not new to me, but complex!

    You have picked up my message, Nancy. Spot on in fact. I believe that charity begins at home. The apportionment of personal funds/resources/assistance (but not necessarily just money) can be a controversial issue in itself.

    I note, with some trepidation, the billions – no, trillions – of dollars coming from western government coffers to support the western (global?) financial plight. But even this is complex, for the economies of other less prosperous countries hinge on the world economies.

    The haves and the have-nots. Probably, and it would be unfortunate, these will always exist.

    This year, my youngest daughter (14y) went on a mission to Fiji, with a group of like-minded young people from our local church. I deliberated for ages on whether the fare money and other expenses for this mission should not have just been passed along to the needy in Fiji, instead of assisting the mission. I still wonder about that. But I’m also not sure of what is right in these circumstances. Who does know? It is a very personal thing.

    Catchya later

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