By Pooja Shah • August 27, 2014
Ms. JD's Global Education Fund Spotlight on Worldwide Education Issues Blog Series -- Health and Education Issues
In many communities around the world, education is a luxury that only the privileged elite can afford. The implications of a lack of education are immense. In our American society, without a high school, college, or even in certain cases a graduate or professional degree, one may not receive the same job opportunities or salary. But while many of us in the United States utilize education to climb the corporate ladder, a lack of education can prove to be fatal for women in impoverished communities in other parts of the world.
The struggle faced by women to achieve parity with their male counterparts is not a new concept. Women in various regions around the world often lack comparable voting, property, educational, individual and marital privileges as their male counterparts, which can deprive them of a voice in their communities. One of the best examples of this lack of a voice is female genital mutilation or FGM, a procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
About 140 million girls and young women between the ages of infancy to 15, in 28 countries internationally, suffer from the consequences of FGM. Although there are different reasons for performing “cutting” (social or cultural customs, religious ideology, emphasis on female virginity and “purity”, interest in reducing sexuality, etc.), the results are dismally similar: FGM can lead to severe complications with menstruation, pregnancy, or difficulty in having sexual intercourse.
Can education provide a solution to such a grave injustice towards women? The short answer is: perhaps. As communities and governments look for solutions to this persistent issue, one potential avenue to effecting change is increasing education for young women, both as a means of directly educating them about the consequences of FGM, and also as a way of providing greater opportunities for women and increasing their perceived value within the community. Education can inform the mothers of these circumcised girls, the circumcision “doctors,” or the victims themselves of the nature of the cutting and the serious health risks it raises. Among other things, education of women also creates a community that can foster better practices, transmit better public health information, create additional opportunities for women, and increase their “worth” to the family.
As lawyers, advocates, activists, and world citizens, we share a responsibility to support women subjected to FGM. One way to provide this support is by working for the educational advancement of women in these communities, and ensuring that every young woman has access to not only primary school education, but opportunities through high school and beyond. Our goal at the Global Education Fund is to make this a possibility for a new group of scholars each year, and we look forward to seeing how these women impact their communities over the coming years and decades.