Every woman has a different story. We see it in her face, note it in the way she interacts with her community and family, understand that she is the culmination of her collective experiences.
Yet not all women’s stories have happy endings. In developing countries, girls tend to inherit the poverty status of their mothers. Many girls are exposed to abuse or virtually enslaved in their homes and never get the chance to break the cycle of poverty. Also in developing nations, there are limited employment opportunities for women, so many don’t see the need to go to school. By circumstance, the worldviews of girls are often narrowed to the point of mere sustenance living, with no time or regard for their own foreseeable future.
Fortunately, this has been changing in recent decades. Across the globe, girls and women have made enormous strides in advancing their station in life; becoming leaders in their communities, improving the quality of life for themselves and their children, and increasing their lifetime earning potential. What has been a common thread for these women? Education.
Consider Iba Agushi’s story. Now the Director of Operatons for CleanEdison, a leading U.S. company in green-collar job training, Agushi was born in Kosovo and spent ten years in Iraq.
“Even though I am a Director of Operations, the first time I ever touched a computer keyboard was in 2001,” says Agushi. “During the Kosovo war, we weren’t allowed to take any classes or go to school. Culturally, women are still just expected to give birth, not to work. And in Iraq, it was even worse.” Agushi, who describes herself as having been a ‘tough girl’, was able to earn a university degree and a Master’s in International Diplomacy and is now working to recruit and train people in green technology, especially veterans of war. Says Agushi, “The situation is improving in Kosovo as more and more, people are realizing that education is the key to setting women free.”
Like Agushi, more and more women are seeking to change their stories through the power of education. And it is indeed powerful: on average wages for girls rise 20% for every year beyond 4th grade that a girl remains in school. An education nearly triples a girl’s potential annual income, often bringing her out of a sustenance existence and into the safety of a stable and productive life. For instance, a girl earning a meager amount selling tamales on the side of the road may, with access to an education, go own to become a teacher, bettering both her life and the lives of those in her community. And girls who complete a basic level of education are three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS, and less likely to pass it on to their own children if they do have it. On many levels, education empowers young girls to be strong and encourages them to envision a future that may be vastly different then what they may have previously known.
What can you do to help women, especially impoverished women, get the access they need to an education? During Women’s History Month there are a multitude of ways to help. Vittana is sponsoring a 100 Women event, where you can help contribute to the education of women from around the globe by funding a microloan. The goal is to fully fund 100 women by the end of March. You can join the ongoing conversation on Facebook, or share you story on Twitter about what education means to you. You can also check the International Women’s Day website for projects and events happening in your community.
Whatever you do to help women get an education this month (or any other point in the year), know that you are empowering them to rewrite their life stories for the better.