Welcome to the October installment of The Puggle, your source for the emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education that the Echidna Giving team has come across this month!
In case you missed it, on October 11 the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child. A lot of the press surrounding the event focused on how far we have to go to do right by girls around the world. But Melinda Gates expressed more optimism. Girls are getting more attention from the world’s leaders, who have better data on them than ever. Investments in adolescents are on the rise. And girls are helping one another—in part by becoming heroes and role models for each other. We Will Rise, an hour-long special about Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, features some of these girls. So, yes, we have a long ways to go to equalize opportunities for girls. But honoring the Day of the Girl also means honoring the strengths of girls around the world and we have a great many to celebrate.
For a well-told story of a remarkable young women, check out the Disney film Queen of Katwe. In telling the story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl from a slum in Katwe who becomes a chess star, the film manages to convey the context while neither overly dramatizing nor overly romanticizing it. As Director Mira Nair put it, it’s “a radical film for Disney in many ways. … It has beauty and barbarity side-by-side." The New York Times also published a short documentary about a young woman in Afghanistan who resisted marriage to stay in school.
The United Nations Population Fund argued in their recent State of the World Population report that we should be particularly concerned about girls at age 10, which “is a critical juncture in a girl’s life.” At the Girl Summit in DC at which the report was launched, Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, argued passionately that, in fact, by the time girls turn 10, it’s too late. They’ve already faced systemic disadvantages that will set them back in life, like the fact that their brothers and fathers are served the best of the food in the house. (See this summary from Devex for other takeaways from the Summit.)
Despite the increased attention on early childhood development overall (for example, the October Lancet focuses on the subject), in our field scan we haven’t found much evidence related to systemic gender gaps for young children. What we do know is that, for the most part, in the long run girls and boys benefit equally from early childhood interventions, although girls are more likely to benefit in terms of schooling outcomes. We also learned that a careful look at existing evidence on cognitive outcomes for young children may yield some interesting insights. Given what we know about developmental differences between girls and boys, at the age of five to six girls should be a year ahead of boys academically. If outcomes at young ages are equal, it would suggest inequality in favor of boys.
We’re on the lookout for more evidence in this area: please share what you've come across in the comments below.
Stay posted for our November edition next month. In the meantime, check-out the latest call for proposals from the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education and encourage those doing great work to improve secondary education in East Africa to register by November 21!