Why Women’s Education Has “Enormous Multiplier Effects”

In economies that have grown extremely fast over the last few decades, not only are women and men equal in terms of literacy, but in many cases there's more women than men are enrolled in higher education programs.
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Question: Is there a generational component to the gender gap?

Saadia Zahidi:  We do see some effects of that, and that’s very visible in some of the economies that have grown extremely fast over the last two or three decades.  And what you’ll find is, countries that used to not be extremely rich 20, 30, 40 years ago, they have huge gaps in terms of literacy rates still.  And yet when you look at today’s current enrollment rates, for example, primary, secondary, tertiary education, not only are women and men equal, but in many cases women are... there’s greater enrollment for women than for men.  And essentially what that’s showing in just maybe one generation and sometimes two generations, you’ve got remarkable differences in terms of the level of education that women are receiving. 
Question: How has the global recession changed gender gaps?

Saadia Zahidi: Different effects for different countries.  So we’re covering 134 countries and not only are there different effects for different countries, but very different effects for different segments of society. And so while for a certain segment of society, the idea of a "man-cession" may be true, it’s not true for other parts of society.  And so it’s gong to have very, very different effects.  I think one of the more probably the most worrying effects is the fact that there will be less to go around in terms of resources and that can be attributed to girls and women’s education and empowerment.  And certainly when we think about, if we’ve got less resources and we’ve got to think just a little bit harder about what would be the most effective way of investing those resources.  And it really does come down to girls’ education and investing in that because it has enormous multiplier effects.

Recorded on October 13, 2010
Interviewed by John Cookson