A Lesson from Malala: Girls’ Education Pays Off


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When I heard the news last autumn that 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan had been shot simply for standing up for her right as a girl to get an education, I was horrified.

It also reminded me how lucky I was.

When I was offered a rare scholarship to study abroad, it wasn’t acceptable for me, as a young married Indonesian woman, to live apart from my husband. My mother laid out two options: Either he would join me, which meant giving up his job, or I had to decline the offer.

I know it was her way to advocate for my husband to support me, which he did without hesitation. We both went to the United States to complete our master’s degrees. I combined it with a doctorate in economics, and we had our first child, a daughter, while we both were graduate students.

High school girls taking notes in Suapur, Bangladesh. Photo © Scott Wallace/ World Bank

My mother had six girls and four boys (I am number seven). She also had a doctorate, working as a professor at the Institute of Education in Central Java. She had gone beyond what “normal” for a woman in Indonesia, far ahead of her time. And she was ready to support me, in her own way.

For a girl – or any child – to have the opportunity to realize her dreams, it takes three things: the determination and courage of her own convictions, the love and support of her family, and the support of her society. I was fortunate to have all of these things, including a family that wisely navigated society’s conventions. Because in the face of prejudice, it also requires pushing boundaries –sometimes with your family, sometimes with society.

Malala certainly has had determination and family support. She also was willing to take incredible risks. But an extreme minority decided to stop her. Her tragedy has triggered an outpouring of support both from her own society and from around the globe for the importance of investing in women and girls.

When Malala turns 16 on July 12, 57 million children worldwide will still be out of school, 31 million of whom are girls. Many more children – mostly girls – are forced to drop out before they can attain higher levels of learning, limiting their options. Often poor families keep girls at home when there isn’t enough money to send all children to school, and the return on investment from educating a daughter is too often perceived as lower than from a son.

This is a personal and development travesty. We know that children born to a mother who is educated are 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5. And we know that a girl with even one additional year of education can earn up to 20% more as an adult.

Girls’ education = opportunity = income = healthier, better educated families = empowered citizens = ending poverty.

The good news is that we have made progress. Nearly two-thirds of all countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, one of the Millennium Development Goals. In fact, girls now outnumber boys in secondary education in over one-third of these countries. The World Bank Group has been a leading supporter of this effort. With support from IDA, the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries, almost 6 million girls in Bangladesh are able to go school. In Yemen, conditional cash transfers have encouraged parents to allow their girls to attend school, helping nearly 40,000 students.

Yet progress remains uneven across the world. The 2012 World Development Report  found that girls' enrollment in primary and secondary school has improved little in many sub-Saharan African countries and some parts of South Asia. And an estimated two-thirds of out-of-school girls belong to ethnic minority groups in their countries. So there is much work left for us to do.

As Malala stands up again to speak on behalf of educating girls, we must all stand with her for the right for all children, everywhere to go to school and learn. We must share Malala’s determination and push the boundaries with them and for them to eliminate expectations, conventions, or poverty that prevent any child from fulfilling her potential.

Dhanesh kumar
July 31, 2013

Dear, Madam/Sir
i'm Dhanesh kumar CEO of Sindh Testing Service Pakistan, we need your help in education field. if you provide scholarships tp pakistani then please we want to work collaboration with you! STS is non.profitable organization STS are provide scholarships to pakistani students if you want to support STS then STS conduct entry test and 100% merit provid you talented student for higher education in abroad,
Thanking you.

July 13, 2013


July 13, 2013

Malala, I am so proud of you.The courage and determination you showed in the face of tyranny is remarkable. You have made all Pakistanis proud of you. God bless you and always keep you safe.
All the best to you.

Carol Taylor
July 12, 2013

What a powerful blog. It's great that we are talking about girls education, and that we are getting close to meeting the Millennium Development Goals. But lets not lose the opportunity to talk about women's education too. So lets change your last line to '.....we must all stand with her for the right for all girls and women to have full access to good quality education.' Women bring up children, and act as role models to girls and boys. Too many women are held back by society, culture, the men in their lives, from even having a chance of fulfilling their potential.

July 12, 2013

Dear Ms. Indrawati ,
thank you very much for this fantastic and personal article where you have pointed out in a excellent way the main reasons for this kind of discrimination which targets the highest value of the human being I.e. "Life".
I would also underline one aspect but not only how the people are still using religious aspects for the oppressing and abuses of the people specially females/girls even every religion teaches to love each others as the first message.
Since we do not understand and teach to our next generation to be all foreigners on this planet.
As you suggest the countermeasure for this inhuman behavior is education, education and again education for all costs.