Magazine article UN Chronicle

A Mutually Reinforcing Goal

Magazine article UN Chronicle

A Mutually Reinforcing Goal

Article excerpt

There is no question that educating girls is a prerequisite for eradicating poverty. Education empowers and transforms women. It allows them to break the "traditional" cycle of exclusion that keeps them at home and disengaged from decision making. Education, especially higher education, can prepare women to take on roles of responsibility in government, business and civil society. Women make ideal leaders: numerous studies have demonstrated that they tend to allocate resources more wisely than men. For example, women spend a larger percentage of their income on food and education for their children. Thus, strengthening the economic and political role of women directly benefits the next generation. To provide an excellent university education for women is to make long-term investment in their and their children's futures.

As societies open up, they often create new opportunities for women to take on leadership roles, but these opportunities are lost when there are no trained women to assume such roles. Changes in Afghanistan, for instance, have created possibilities for women to accept more responsibilities in government and society; however, such possibilities become meaningless without a population of appropriately-qualified women. Rwanda serves as a positive example; the large numbers of women in its government have undoubtedly contributed to the peaceful and effective rebuilding of the country after the 1994 genocide. Since leadership often determines the directions of change, the ability of women to rise to leadership positions affects the progress of women's rights, as well as their future prospects.

An excellent university that specifically educates women to become capable, thoughtful and ethical leaders is vital to reducing poverty in the long term. In Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, we are putting this belief into practice by building a unique undergraduate liberal arts and postgraduate professional university. The Asian University for Women (AUW) is founded upon the conviction that women of high ability and potential can be educated to meet society's challenges and effect positive change. We aim to graduate highly trained and motivated women who will lead the fight against poverty, a global issue that most of them understand intimately from growing up in Bangladesh and other Asian countries where girls are traditionally underserved. In the words of Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus: "Higher education can be an escalator not only for personal success, but also for the capacity one needs to transform his or her wider society."

The idea for the AUW originated from the Task Force on Higher Education and Society, convened by the World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to examine the state of tertiary education in the developing world. Kamal Ahmad, founder of AUW and president of the AUW Support Foundation, served on the Task Force Steering Committee. In 2000, the Task Force published its findings in a report titled, Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise (http://www.tfhe.net/), which concluded that developing countries must improve the quality of their institutions of higher learning, in both governance and pedagogy, in order to compete in today's increasingly globalized, knowledge-based economy.

In previous decades in the developing world, higher education had been neglected due to the assumption that primary education provides the best return on development investment. While the development community's traditional focus on expanding primary and secondary education results in great progress in primary school enrollment, it no longer suffices. Even though transforming the education paradigm in the developing world required focusing on primary education, concentrating exclusively on it has undermined the interconnectedness of the system as a whole. The success of primary education is compromised without robust higher-education programmes, because the system cannot produce local educators, managers and innovators with the perspectives that can spring from high-level analysis. …

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