08 Mar 11 - Economic importance of educating women and girls highlighted in panel session

International Women's DayOn the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, UNCTAD organized a panel discussion on enhancing women's access to education, science and technology for economic growth and development.

The discussion held on 8 March recognized the importance of girls' education in reducing the gender gap - especially in developing countries - and in achieving all MDGs.

Investing in girls has shown to produce tremendous multiplier effects both at the household level and at the community level, which contributes to transform a girl from what in many countries is regarded as an economic liability to a significant economic asset.

Studies show that an extra year of primary school may increase a girl's future wage by an estimated 10-20 per cent, while the benefits of educating girls have proved to have major intergenerational impacts, including: delayed marriages and delayed childbirths; educated and well nourished children; increased wages; and overall well-being of the family and the society.

Overall, investment in girls' education can act as a catalyst for women's empowerment and as a driver of economic growth.

Although great progress has been made in terms of gender equality during the last two decades, women and girls still have less access than men and boys to education in general and to technological learning in particular. Two thirds of illiterate adults worldwide are women.

Most barriers hindering girls' and women's access to education, science and technology, especially in developing countries, are related to family and cultural constraints. Stereotypical ideas of what are considered to be male or female jobs or sectors are still prevalent in developed countries as well.

Expanding women's access to education is necessary but not sufficient. It is crucial to also improve the quality and relevance of education to ensure that women obtain access to decent work.

There is a pressing need to generate awareness of the valuable asset that educated and skilled girls represent for their families and for society as a whole.

To encourage the enrollment of girls in school and to favour long-term school attendance, several countries have introduced policy measures aimed at providing economic incentives for families.

  • States such as Kerala, in India, have successfully implemented schemes, whereby families receive money for each grade passed by a young girl.

  • In Brazil, poor families with children receive a cash payment - through the Bolsa Família programme - in return for their commitment to keeping their children in school and take them for regular health checks.

Such schemes are proving effective in reducing poverty, increasing school attendance and enhancing gender parity, and are successfully being replicated in other countries.

Increased access to technology for women, including ICTs, makes them active partners in addressing global problems, such as food insecurity and climate change. Women's participation in scientific research provides them with the opportunity to influence the research agenda, putting emphasis on topics affecting their well-being and interests.

As part of its mandate, UNCTAD contributes to the inclusion of gender considerations in sectors such as trade, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

The conclusions emerging from the event provide UNCTAD with a broad set of ideas and suggestions to be used as input to the UNCTAD XIII Ministerial Conference (Doha, Qatar, April 2012).

UNCTAD's activities on gender and development include: research work, intergovernmental discussions; capacity-building for policymakers; training of entrepreneurs; and sharing of best practice and lessons learned.

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