Earlier this year an alarming, tragic fact was brought to the forefront of public debate thanks to a video produced by UNICEF: young girls in Chad, a country in Africa, are more likely to die during childbirth than they are to attend secondary school. It’s a statistic reflective of many challenges facing developing nations, but it goes to show the extreme hurdles facing the majority of the world’s women when seeking education.
The United States and other developed countries have taken great leaps forward in increasing the number of college-educated women among their citizenry. It’s been a fantastic improvement, but only a small start in the effort to educate the billions of women of the world. Let’s compare US female education statistics with those of developed nations and break down the objectives necessary to achieve a more balanced global state of women’s’ education.
The United States: 100 Years of Improvement
The expanding of women’s education in America began roughly a century ago with the advent of the Suffrage Movement occurring on the coattails of an unprecedented industrial expansion in this country. Plenty of women had been educated in the US prior to the 1910s, but these were mostly the special cases of the privileged few. The overwhelming majority of women were never educated past elementary-grade standards. However starting in the early-20th century more and more women were choosing to go to college.
The next 90 years have been a slow and steady march toward education equality in this country. Starting in the late-20th/early-21st century women started to outnumber men on American college campuses. Two decades later, working professionals who never dreamed of having academic opportunities beyond high school are being proven wrong thanks to online learning. Many masters programs in education online are enrolled in by working women. The number of educated women in this country increases because the demand for them has too, as well as the number of opportunities and avenues at their disposal for achieving academic goals.
The Developing World: 100 Years of Work to Do
Literacy and learning levels of women living in most developed nations resemble those of women living in the US and Europe over a hundred years ago. However, changes are being documented at a slow but steady rate. For example 42% of older adult women living in the Middle East and North Africa are illiterate, while 78% of women age 15-23 can read. It’s marked progress, reflective of emerging economies and more opportunities being created as a result.
Similar to conditions in the United States and other global leaders in women’s education, economic expansion is likely the long-term ticket needed for increased numbers of educated females. It was only when our internal climate of relative prosperity and industrial growth appeared that women began to see more opportunities to learn. In time, as their economies improve and opportunities expand, women’s education will become more prevalent in the parts of the world struggling to keep up to our standards. It may take time, but one day it will be well worth the wait.