A force for good: Educating girls

The topic of girls and education has been front and center in the news this week as the situation of the missing school girls in Nigeria continues to make headlines. On Saturday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof published, What’s So Scary About Smart Girls? He claims that educating girls is a powerful step to transform a society and an irreversible step in women becoming “force multipliers for good.” Kristof makes a compelling case that the power of educating girls in extremist countries is stronger and more effective at bringing stability than producing weapons or strengthening military power.

Last week at GSR we had planning meetings with our partners at the Hilton Foundation. One of our guests for the meetings was Franciscan Sr. Jane Wakahiu. Originally from Kenya, Sr. Jane works in Scranton, Penn., with the African Sisters Education Collaborative, specifically focusing on educating women religious from Africa for leadership in the African church and in offering education to others in the communities they serve.

In what started out as casual dinner conversation, I asked Sr. Jane about women religious in Africa and how they perceive the current situation in the United States between the LCWR and the Vatican. I was surprised to hear Sr. Jane say that sisters in Africa are carefully watching the situation, hoping the resolution will open more doors for their communities to access education and have a greater voice in the African church.

In essence, Sr. Jane hinted that the American sisters are paving a path for independence that African sisters soon hope to travel – but that it can’t be done until education is more accessible. Sr. Jane then started talking with us about the challenges for women and girls to become educated in Africa and how, in her perception, access to education would better the lives of so many women and families.

As the situation in Nigeria has unfolded since 246 girls were kidnapped April 14 by Boko Haram militants – who released a video yesterday allegedly showing them (mostly Christians) dressed as Muslims – many Americans are in disbelief at how this could happen and what can be done about it. Certainly we can’t send military aid to rescue a large group of school-age girls, or can we? However, Aljazeera America reports today that American planes are flying missions over Nigeria to try and locate the girls.

[Colleen Dunne is an NCR Bertelsen intern in editorial and marketing and a primary contributor to Global Sisters Report.]