In many societies, particularly developing countries, girls are perceived as less desirable than boys. For example, China’s one-child policy combined with a preference for boys has led to a substantial imbalance between the sexes. A report in the Economist states that in China, there are 108 boys to 100 girls for the generation born in the late 1980s and 124 to 100 in the early 2000s; the ratio is as high as 130 to 100 in some Chinese provinces. Vietnam also sees a growing difference in sex ratio, logging about 110 boys born to every 100 girls, according to a New York Times article in 2007. A United Nations report estimated that Asia was short 163 million females in 2005 when compared with overall population balances of men and women elsewhere in the world, where the sex ratio generally hover around 105 boys to 100 girls. As reported by OneVietnam, one unfortunate result of the sex imbalance is increased human trafficking, where many of the victims are women and children of average age between 15 and 17 years old. However, there is increasing recognition of sex bias at birth and there are programs designed to empower girls and women, better preparing them to defend against social biases.
Investment in Girls
The idea of investing in girls as a mean of combating social biases have been adopted by numerous humanitarians, including Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer turned humanitarian. Mortenson, who wrote about his experience in Three Cups of Tea, describes how his promise to build a school in the desolate region of Korakoram in Pakistan turned into a journey that resulted in the construction of 50 schools, particularly for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan over a 10-year period. Mortenson reasons that while most schools are strictly for boys, who subsequently participate in the work force and spend less time at home than girls, girls are typically expected to attend to their household and, if women are educated, they are more likely to transfer their knowledge to their children.
Studies have found that in developing countries, the majority of girls reside in rural areas to support their household via farming, raise children and maintain their property. They get married at a younger age, resulting in fewer years of school and usually earlier pregnancies, which leads to more repeated pregnancies and a higher chance of death during childbirth. Women’s contributions are often essential to the national economy, but they are the most exploited and least privileged members of households. Investing in girls help break the cycle of poverty by delaying marriage, resulting in more education and higher literacy rates, and leading to perhaps fewer repeated pregnancies. Some theorize that such investments will lead to more women finding jobs and migrating from subsistence farming while still supporting their household. In addition, there may be slower population growth and fewer deaths at childbirth.
Battling Sex Trafficking with Education
In the case of human trafficking, the problem has many causes, including poverty, lack of education, lack of awareness of trafficking, and family conflict among others. These causes are mostly preventable with increased education and training to empower women. An example showing the benefits of educating and empowering women is a culinary arts program initiated by An-Giang-Dong Thap Alliance for the Prevention of Trafficking (ADAPT), which is a project of the Pacific Links Foundation, that provides scholarships to women who are most at risk of being trafficked. These women participate in a culinary arts program in Ho Chi Minh City, and with training and mentorship, they become self-sustainable and can save enough money for their future while remitting money to their family.
Investing in girls will result in numerous benefits that extend beyond the educated person into the household and community, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty. As one saying goes, “When you educate a boy, you educate an individual, when you educate a girl, you educate a nation.”