ECONOMY: 'It's Smart to Invest in Girls'

BRUSSELS - Sending more girls to school may help poor countries get out of the economic slump faster, the NGO Plan International says in a new report. Just a one percent rise in the number of girls attending secondary school boosts a country's annual per capita income growth by 0.3 percent.

Girls are a formidable future workforce - if they get adequate training. There are over 500 million adolescent girls and young women in developing countries, Plan estimates in its report 'Girls in the Global Economy: adding it all up'. But many girls do not have the opportunities for good education, and the financial crisis is worsening their situation.

In times of economic hardship, girls in the poorest countries are the first to be pulled out of school, the report says. Some parents consider the education of boys to be more important, and girls often have to start working, or looking after children as their mothers try to improve household income.

"Boys are also affected," Nikki van der Gaag, co-author of the report acknowledges. "But in a different way," she tells IPS. "While writing the report, I was surprised to find that there are very little specific data about the situation of boys or girls. Such information is needed to adjust policies."

The information available suggests that investing more in girls is a good way out of poverty. "Countries with the lowest number of girls in education lie at the bottom of the human development rankings," van der Gaag says.

Investing in education promises an attractive return. "An extra year of education increases a girl's income by 10 to 20 percent; it is a significant step in breaking the cycle of poverty," the report says.

Institutions like the World Bank agree. "Primary education for girls has vastly improved, but we have not seen such a success in the succession from school to secondary education or to productive work," Guggi Lareya from the World Bank in Brussels says.

"Too many girls get stuck in early motherhood or household chores, and that means an awful lot of missed opportunities. As our president Robert Zoellick already said, investing in girls is not o­nly fair, it is also a smart thing to do, it is smart economics."

In several countries, working girls and women have been the first to lose their jobs, reversing a worldwide trend of the past 15 years where increasing numbers of women have joined the formal workforce.

In the Philippines, seven out of 10 people laid off are women, according to the local women's organisation Gabriela. In Indonesia too job losses have been greater for women than for men.

The data presented in the report suggests that decision-makers would be well advised to find ways to stem the massive outflow of female workers and to increase female participation in the labour market.

The report says that in South Asia, 82 percent of men are working as opposed to just 27 percent of women. If the ratio of female to male workers in India increased by just 10 percent, the country's GDP would increase by 8 percent.

Moreover, "wages of women are well spent," the authors of the report note. "Women reinvest 90 percent of their income back into the household, where men reinvest o­nly 30 to 40 percent."

Plan proposes a global 10-point action plan which includes providing girls with education, better jobs, access to land or property, and leadership opportunities. o­ne of the recommendations is to go beyond investing in infrastructure projects as a means of fighting the crisis, to investment in social services like health and education. These enable women to develop their earning potential.

"Donors like the EU should among other things scale up investment in secondary education, help partner countries to improve access for women to the labour market, and ensure decent and equal salaries and working conditions," says Deepali Sood, head of the Plan EU liaison office.

'Girls in the Global Economy' is the third annual report of Plan International o­n the situation of girls. The organisation plans to continue the series until 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals should in theory have eliminated gender disparity at all levels of education, and improved the share of women in wage employment. (END/2009)


By Peter Dhondt