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Educating Girls: One Man’s Argument

Yasmine Cathell's picture

I first learned about Qasim Amin in a Contemporary Islamic Civilizations class while studying at university, and could not help but wonder where I would be if it were not for this man. My grandmother most likely would not speak French and English in addition to her native Arabic, and chances are that my mother would not have had the opportunity to attend an all girls school in Cairo and then go on to attend university.
Photo: Yasmine Cathell

International Women’s Day just passed on March 8th and so it only seems fitting to explore an area of great importance to international development in general, and myself in particular; namely education. While we still have a long way to go in terms of providing equal opportunity and access to education for both girls and boys, more often than not it is a girl’s family who determines whether she will get to attend school. The leading argument keeping girls from school in rural areas and in the developing world is that a woman’s place is in the home.  Well it was precisely this assertion that one man used as the premise for his theory of why women should receive an education.

Qasim Amin, an Egyptian judge and scholar, argued in the late 1800s that women of all classes need to be educated because they are the ones responsible for raising children. “Who teaches your sons?” He would ask and then point out that if the mother of a child has not had a basic education herself, how could she be entrusted with educating her child throughout the most formative years of his (or her) life? Amin, then continued to explain that more intelligent sons would result in better leaders and eventual independence from colonial rule in Egypt. He believed that women and mothers needed to be educated in matters that extended beyond basic child rearing and housekeeping, in order to end archaic belief systems and allow society to progress as a whole.
Photo: Yasmine Cathell"The evidence of history confirms and demonstrates that the status of women is inseparably tied to the status of a nation." (Qasim Amin). Likewise, the status of a nation’s development is inseparably tied to the development of that nation’s women. It is no coincidence that Nobel Prize winning Grameen Bank, a microfinance institution, gives some 97% of its loans to women and that women have proven to be more reliable in repaying their loans. Women, in addition to raising children, are also responsible for running their household accounts and budgeting for food, clothing and other necessities. Women therefore have a better understanding of their local markets and the value of specific items.

I will be the first to point out that education is a fundamental right and that there are significant ethical, societal and economic factors as to why all women should receive an education. However, if we are still trying to convince fathers to send their daughters to school today, why not use an argument that worked over 100 years ago? If the goal is to give more girls the opportunity at an education, then why not focus on one simple message to respond to the most common argument prohibiting girls from attending school?

…Better educated girls make for smarter mothers who in turn produce smarter children thus benefitting all of society.