Gender equality. Could this be the simple solution to boosting developing countries’ economic growth? Economic growth leads to a gradual reduction in global economic inequalities; resulting in more middle-income countries, which make good trading partners for countries like the U.K. Gender equality in education is one of the few ‘win win’ strategies in international development[i]; incontestably proven to promote economic growth. Why restrict the talent pool to just the male half of a population? In an unequal education system you are completely missing out on tens of thousands of talented girls that, with the benefit of education[ii], could boost economic development through an improved employment sector.
So how exactly does equality in education improve developing county’s economic prospects? For a start it reduces fertility rates, which reduces the population, which results in more resources available for workers, such as social resources including housing, as well as economic resources including jobs. Lower fertility also reduces dependency and increases saving. For example, when a family has just 1-2 children, as opposed to 5-6, parents have fewer children depending on them, meaning they have more opportunity to save and invest. In addition, the children they do have are likely to have a better standard of living, including better education which has a knock on effect in boosting the economic growth in the next generation, with a more educated population.
The Girls Education Challenge (GEC) is one of many projects set up to prosper female education in developing countries, funded by UK foreign aid. It currently has 37 programmes in 18 different countries, which include a diverse range of implementations to provide girls with access to education; books and materials necessary for school; safe places to learn; and girl-friendly facilities in schools, such as separate? toilet facilities. The project aims to improve the education and opportunities for up to one million of the world’s most marginalised girls, providing a better future for themselves, their families and their communities. This is just one example of how the UK’s foreign aid is contributing to the improvement of gender equality in education, which will contribute to improvement in global economic growth.
However, It is expected that the next U.K government budget on March 8th, will announce cuts to the current international law requiring 0.7 per cent of gross national income to the foreign aid target will be made. Theresa May’s spokeswoman has made clear implications that foreign aid would be under review, suggesting that there will be no commitments “beyond” the current Parliament. The international target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income is put in place in order to attain a standard measurement in which all countries have made a commitment to abide by in support of the world’s poorest people. It has been argued that current levels of aid spending should be cut, as there are more important priorities within our own state, which are more deserving of funding. However, the truth is, aid spending in comparison to the UK’s overall budget is a miniscule amount. In fact it works out to be “less than the average citizen spends on food they never eat”. Moreover, the greater implications and effects of such cuts will be seen in the progress of gender equality in development.
It has been argued that 0.7 per cent of the UK’s income dedicated to foreign aid should be cut to fund in-country institutions such as the NHS. However the foreign aid budget equates to a mere tenth of the NHS budget. It is ignorant to assume that investment in overseas development; women’s development in particular, will not come back to us in the long run. Empowering women through education is not only an overseas investment, but can also be seen as an investment within our own country, as the improved economies of developing countries, and the shift from low-income to middle-income economies means better trading partners for the UK and as well as better international security. The liberal international order that we uphold implies that it is our duty to commit to the foreign aid target. As a moral responsibility, as well as an economic investment, cuts to the already minimum amount spent on foreign aid in the UK would not be advantageous. It is urgent that those who believe aid and development is morally right and in the national interest, speak up. Should humanity, duty and compassion terminate at our own border? It is time for those of us who believe in gender equality and development to find our voices before it’s too late.
Bischoff, Victoria. 03/2012. ‘Chart of the Day: How Your Government Spends Your Money’ in: City Wire. http://citywire.co.uk/money/chart-of-the-day-how-the-government-spends-your-money/a576015
Merrick, Rob. 01/2017. ‘Theresa May set to cut 0.7% foreign aid spending commitment, Downing Street signals’ in: The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-uk-foreign-aid-budget-cut-review-2020-signal-a7472051.html
The Girls Education Challenge (GEC), Department For International Development, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/girls-education-challenge
Wintour, Patrick. 22/02/2017. ‘David Miliband: assault on UK foreign aid spend is populism at its worst’ in: The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/22/david-miliband-assault-foreign-aid-spend-populism-worst
[i] Klasen. 2002. ‘Low Schooling for Girls, Slower Growth for All? Cross-Country Evidence on the Effect of Gender Inequality in Education on Economic Development’
[ii] Klasen, Lamanna. 2009. ‘The Impact of Gender Inequality in Education and Employment on Economic Growth: New Evidence for a Panel of Countries’