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Educating Girls Will End Poverty in the Sahel

The education of girls and young women—with its dividends of poverty alleviation, gender equality, HIV/AIDS reduction—is the single most effective means by which so many of the problems blocking Africa’s development can be overcome. (Camfed)

The crisis in the Sahel casts a spotlight on the heartbreaking plight of the region's children, the youngest victims of an ongoing and widespread cycle of poverty. While the current food emergency has brought suffering to millions without regard for age or gender, girls are particularly vulnerable due to their low social status: when food is available, they’re fed less than their brothers.

The inequality doesn’t end there. Girls are at high risk of sexual predation, child marriage, multiple pregnancies, and HIV/AIDS.

Access to food, health care, and freedom from sexual exploitation are basic human rights. And these rights could be secured for girls in the Sahel with a simple, nearly miraculous solution: education.

Educating girls breaks the cycle of poverty.

Only about one in five girls in the Sahel receives any formal education, and of those, hardly any attend school past the third grade.

Most families send their sons to school if they’re able to, but it’s educated women who lift families – and communities -- out of poverty.  Numerous studies show that girls in Africa who finish high school marry later, have fewer, healthier children, and earn significantly higher wages than those who do not. According to the U.N., if an African mother has even five years of education, her child is 40% more likely to reach five years of age.

"The reason so many experts believe educating girls is the most important investment in the world is how much they give back to their families," says Gene Sperling, one of President Obama's economic advisors. According to Sperling, women in the developing world who have had some education share their earnings and support their families, while men keep one-third to one-half for themselves.

The current crisis in the Sahel will eventually come to an end, but chronic poverty there will never end until girls are allowed to reach their full potential.

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