THE BLOG

Graça Machel: Women's Education Is Needed To Advance Society

Women simply being present at the helm is not enough; the other critical role of education is to prepare women to be to the leaders their nations require.

28/09/2017 08:54 SAST | Updated 28/09/2017 08:55 SAST
Bryan Steffy/ Getty Images for Diamond Empowerment Fund
Humanitarian Graca Machel arrives at the Diamond Empowerment Fund's Diamonds Do Good awards gala at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas on June 4, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Over the last three decades, the advent of the internet age coupled with rapid globalisation has enabled us to be better connected as global citizens. Despite gains in connectivity and interconnectedness across borders, societies around the world are still plagued by fragmentation and inequity.

The well-coordinated action of civil society has become pivotal in countering such destructive forces. One certain solution to ensure a vibrant and engaged citizenry is to educate women and encourage their active civic participation.

The year 1990 was perhaps the beginning of the interconnected world as we know it. It was when Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web, that panoptic network of networks that brought the global community closer than ever before.

Quickly becoming one of the most visible forces of globalisation, it has removed barriers of communication and fostered connections between people unhindered by geography. It has formed for us the modern Forum Romanum, a virtual and far-reaching platform, where voices of agreement and opposition mingle freely and space where society evolves.

However, as this giant leap for mankind was being made, over 600 million of the world's women had never been to school. Even before this new technological world came into being, millions were already excluded from its tangible and virtual realms. A well-educated female collective, however, is necessary to the advancement of any society, especially in this tech age.

While there is a considerable gender imbalance in STEM fields, there are increasing numbers of women in these fields exercising their civic duty and finding solutions to global challenges. Female scientists are developing vaccines and women tech coders are creating technologies that are changing the world in which we live. While we know women make up a minority of the world's research community, with only 30 percent of the world's researchers being women, UNESCO reports that a closer look at the data exposes some surprising exceptions.

Access to education, in the most holistic sense possible, must be any society's imperative.

For example, in Bolivia, women account for 63 percent researchers, compared to France with a rate of 26 percent or Ethiopia at 8 percent. We must encourage girls and young women to explore STEM subjects and support their aspirations to pursue careers in these technical fields if we want women to play a role in their governance.

Access to education, in the most holistic sense possible, must be any society's imperative. If 'women carry half the sky', then education allows women and girls to be full citizens and enables their communities to reach their highest potential. Education equips women to fully utilise their talents in political, economic and social spheres and opens doors to the global community where they can take centre stage.

Education provides awareness of civic responsibilities and rights, which then enables citizens to see it as their duty to exercise these rights. This sense of civic-mindedness and ownership over one's political fate has perhaps never been more important than now. In the complex world, we find ourselves in today, forces of hate and intolerance are galvanising. The keys to challenging this tide of divisive, destructive isolationism can be found in the powerful fruits of education and civic participation.

We have seen this power most recently unleashed in March 2017 where millions of women took to the streets in over 600 rallies in 60 countries in defence of women's rights. This unprecedented galvanisation of women across the globe demonstrates how commanding they can be when equipped with the connectivity and moral imperative to become active citizens.

When women come together as change agents, it becomes impossible for them to go unrecognized in the political discourse of the day or marginalised in the development of their societies. This is not just theory. There is evidence of how powerful the tools of education and civic participation are in empowering women to hold leaders to account and becoming leaders in their own right.

In Rwanda, for example, where female literacy rates actually surpass that of their male counterparts, we have seen women dominate in the nation's governing structures. In fact, in 2016, this small East African nation was the world leader in that regard having 64 percent of its national legislature comprised of women.

Beyond occupying leadership positions, a calibrated education in ethical leadership is just as important.

In a fantastic example of a society's ability to regenerate and reconstitute itself, Rwandese women are claiming their right to sit where the decisions are made and shaping the policies, plans and strategies for their futures and those of generations to come.

But women simply being present at the helm is not enough; the other critical role of education is to prepare women to be to the leaders their nations require. Beyond occupying leadership positions, a calibrated education in ethical leadership is just as important.

The African Leadership University [ALU] is an innovative model of higher education that is preparing the African continent's leaders of today and tomorrow. They employ a unique pedagogy to empower leaders that will be prominent in global and national organisations as well as at the grassroots, inspiring creative and positive change in both formal and informal settings.

Part and parcel of ethical, civic-minded education is the task of connecting to a global citizenry. If the genius of the Internet is in its global series of interconnected networks, imagine the revolution that could occur if women organised into international 'network of networks' themselves.

There is power in networks. At the Graca Machel Trust, our approach to women's empowerment is to establish and strengthen networks that drive the advancement of women and increase their participation and visibility in key sectors of society.

Based on the belief that development is hinged on the sustained participation of women in socio-economic spheres at all levels and across sectors, we have five networks operating across the African continent which aim to amplify female voices throughout society at large.

We as global citizens are the sum of our parts, and it does not make sense that we would continue to tolerate the marginalisation of those who are holding up our own sky.

We build networks, underpinned by a philosophy of citizen engagement, at the country level that cascade upwards to the sub-regional and continental levels. Subtly, all of these networks are galvanising into a movement for the social and economic transformation of Africa.

Well organised networks have the reach to shape development agendas on multiple levels –- national, regional, continental and global. For example, CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, is a network of international partners and organisations that work towards building a global civil society that is vibrant and free.

They are also one of biggest proponents of the advancement of women internationally. In fact, 66 percent of their staff complement is comprised of women and many of the organisations within their alliance are women-led. Literally, they are an example of women leading the charge in building a global movement, not only for themselves but for humanity as a whole.

We as global citizens are the sum of our parts, and it does not make sense that we would continue to tolerate the marginalisation of those who are holding up our own sky.

This piece forms part of the Global Challenges Foundation's report, Global Governance for Global Citizens, published in September 2017.