Education, especially for girls and women, is one of the most highly leveraged investments that a developing country can make in its future. Substantial evidence shows that the education of girls has been a key driver for economic growth, essential for ensuring food security, responsible for reducing child malnutrition and important for lowering the risk of HIV/AIDS infection. Educated girls become educated women who employ their expanded knowledge and improved financial situation to provide for their children, thus continuing the virtuous cycle.
This spring, President Barack Obama appointed Melanne Verveer to serve as the first ever ambassador-at-large for global women’s Issues. Ambassador Verveer has been a leader and champion of the rights of women and girls around the world for nearly two decades. In this new role, Ambassador Verveer promotes the political, economic, and social advancement of women around the world through initiatives and programs that seek to increase female access to education and combat gender-based violence.
On July 21, 2009, the Center for Universal Education hosted a conversation with Ambassador Verveer on the importance of girls’ and women’s education in the developing world. Participants from a variety of backgrounds identified specific challenges and highlighted effective strategies for increasing access to quality educational opportunities globally.
Ambassador Verveer initiated the discussion by highlighting her commitment to education as a central pillar of advancing girls’ and women’s empowerment. “Education is the most critical tool we have to create the kind of world we want to see.” She outlined five main issues facing women and girls in developing countries today. First, she voiced an overall need for foreign assistance policies to fully integrate women and girls. Next, she highlighted the impact of the global economic crisis on women and its potential to reverse recent progress on education toward gender parity.
Having just returned from Afghanistan, the Ambassador conveyed her firsthand experience of the challenge of sustaining education in a meaningful way in contexts of conflict. The Ambassador also highlighted the importance of realizing the full potential of women in the Arab World for ensuring development in the region. Finally, the Ambassador concluded that girls’ education is one of the most leveraged development investments that exists and pointed to the need to scale up proven strategies.