It’s 3/14, also known as Pi Day – a mathematics holiday to celebrate the irrational, transcendental number we learned in school, for the most part, to calculate the circumference or area of circles. While there are a number of fulfilling Pi(e) related activities you can indulge in, from feasting on scrumptious pies to chasing down the value of Pi (good luck!), it is also an apt moment to turn attention to where children across the world stand in mathematics achievement and other learning outcomes.
If you speak to any African parent, she or he will usually very quickly point out how important it is for her or his children to attend school. Literacy and education do not only confer social status, but also crucially, improve livelihood opportunities and incomes, and lead to better health and well-being. Indeed, when the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and its partners asked community members in hundreds of locations of the Eastern DRC about their top local priority, better education consistently came first.
Take these two numbers: 165 and 1. The former is the number of children in millions who are chronically malnourished or ‘stunted’; the latter is the number of robust impact evaluations comparing cash and in-kind transfers on malnutrition.
I emphasize ‘comparing’ since there is plenty of evidence on individual cash and in-kind (and voucher) programs, but very few studies deliberately assessing them under the same context, design parameters, and evaluation framework.
We have learned much over the past several decades about the connection between gender inequality and economic growth, particularly when we talk about inequalities in education and employment. Inequalities in education, for instance, artificially reduce the pool of talent which societies can draw from; by excluding qualified girls from the educational stream and promoting less qualified boys, the average amount of human capital in a country will be reduced and this will have an adverse impact on economic performance. We also know that the promotion of female education leads to lower births per women, not only because educated women will have greater knowledge about family planning but also because education creates greater opportunities for women that may be more attractive than childbearing.
In the face of significant social and cultural barriers, it is tempting to be cynical about a role for education in promoting women managers in developing economies. Consider the number of factors that could come in the way: nationally, cultural and social attitudes may discourage the career advancement of women, and at the firm-level, male-dominated informal networks and cultures can act as barriers. Furthermore, even if all these obstacles were somehow removed, the lack of good quality education itself, and skills mismatches can pose problems.
But, in spite of all this, education remains a crucial founding block for career success. After all, one needs an education in the first place to get to a point where these other factors can undercut the likelihood of career progression. Therefore, without access to education, one may stumble even before the climb up the career ladder begins.
Today, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. According to the United Nations, more than a third of women and girls worldwide experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In some countries the proportion is at two thirds. More than 130 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. Child marriage is even more pervasive, with 700 million women living today who married as children. In Africa and South Asia, close to half of girls still marry before the age of 18. These practices are declining, but only slowly.
The widespread negative effects of violence against women have been documented, including in the recent World Bank report Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Complications related to pregnancy and childbirth lead 70,000 adolescent girls to die each year according to UNFPA’s State of the World Population report.
We often think that all women are in some way subjected to gender-based discrimination, and indeed, there is wealth of evidence to support this belief. The same can be said about ethnic minorities and other social groups—indigenous peoples, refugees, sexual minorities, the poor, immigrants, and people living with HIV/AIDS—who may face barriers in their quest for a better life.
In reality, though, we all have multiple identities, and our abilities, opportunities and achievements are all socially mediated by the way these multiple identities interact with each other. For instance, the feminist literature highlights that day-to-day experiences of ethnic minority women can be drastically different from ethnic majority women, although both groups fare worse than men in most outcomes. While context plays a large role in how ethnicity exacerbates gender-based divisions, such interactions often get manifested in similar ways, through systematic, cumulative achievement gaps across social groups.