Why we need to educate women

I am a big fan of TED, and in particular of one of the regular TED contributors Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and researcher who likes to tell stories with numbers. His most recently posted talk reveals the good news that the world is doing rather well at reducing levels of child mortality. But the point that really resonates with me in this talk, and I believe it’s a point he’s made before, is about the huge impact that educating women in developing countries can have.

At about 9:30 into the talk he shows how the introduction of primary school in Sweden in 1842 led to a steep fall in child mortality a generation later, when increased levels of education and literacy began to have an impact. And what was true for Sweden in the 19th century is true for developing countries in Africa and Asia in the 21st century. He refers to a report that demonstrates that almost 50% of the fall in child mortality can be attributed to female education. “When you get girls into school you will get an impact 15 to 20 years later,” Rosling says in the video. (14:10) He also clearly demonstrates that falling child mortality coincides with smaller family sizes, which in effect is moving all developing countries towards the patterns that are common in the developed world, helping to stabilise world population growth.

So the success in reducing child mortality is a humanitarian success, improving the life chances of children. But he points to another important outcome:

“It is also a strategic investment in the future of all mankind because it’s about the environment. We will not be able to […] avoid a terrible climate crisis if we don’t stabilise the world’s population; let’s be clear about that. And the way to do that is to get child mortality down, get access to family planning, and behind that is the drive of female education…”

And this was his (I think) first talk for TED – I recall being excited by seeing data presented in this way: