Contrary to the common assumption that families weren’t sending girls to school for cultural reasons, Ann Cotton, founder of the “Campaign for Female Education” (Camfed) discovered poverty was the main roadblock. As she says, “Families couldn’t afford to buy books or pay school fees for all their children, so they had to choose who would receive an education. Girls were rarely chosen. The reason was simple: boys had a better chance of getting a paid job after graduation.” Ms Cotton founded her organization in 1993 and she is among several people who have seen the need for contributing the missing pieces in a puzzle that is Africa’s struggle against economic and cultural poverty.
But as more women take on high-standing roles in both government and private institutions, poor families feel more confident in investing equally in all their children’s education, regardless of their sex. The example set by women working in a variety of professional areas in both urban and rural areas has had a trickledown effect in hitherto traditionally-minded areas, making them more favourable towards educating their daughters just as well as their sons.
Since its foundation, Camfed has helped over 1.4 million girls in six countries. Programs such as these not only educate girls. They also help to resolve problems that arise from the disadvantaged and abusive past many of these young girls have come from, giving them more self-confidence. The importance of women’s presence and participation in all aspects of social and professional life is further enhanced.
When girls are educated, society and the world of work is enriched with their natural sensitivity, intuitiveness, generosity and fidelity, which education enhances. Such are the women that Pope John Paul II praised in his address on the eve of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, September 1995. “Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life: social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.”