Wouldn’t it be great if we knew the “silver bullet” to solve every problem we had to confront? Unfortunately, the term silver bullet generally describes something elusive — a simple action that can solve a problem quickly.
In fighting global poverty and preventable disease we are always hoping for a silver bullet, but never find one. Dig wells to provide clean water, distribute mosquito nets to combat malaria, give micro-loans to spur entrepreneurship — these are terrific interventions, yet none of them alone will get the job done. The problems they address are deep and complicated and take a broader understanding of the social and other factors at play.
That said, there is one intervention I have heard many people argue comes closest to a silver bullet: girls education. Educate girls, it is theorized, and communities will change. Birth rates will slow, family incomes will rise, gender power dynamics will change.
Whether a silver bullet or not, educating girls is certainly essential to the development of individuals, families and communities. A World Bank studyfound that every year of secondary school education is correlated with an 18 percent increase in a girl’s future earning power. That being the case, how do we increase the number of girls in school in poor communities who have been too often left out? Building more schools would help. Providing health care and hygiene that girls need to stay in school is important. Reducing the economic barrier of school fees and related costs is part of the answer.
One critical factor I don’t hear discussed enough is the need to convince fathers to send their daughters to school. As we approach Father’s Day this weekend in the United States, I am thinking about the critical role fathers play — positively and negatively — in the lives and development of their children.
A number of years ago I worked on a project at a primary school in a rural community in Kenya that provided clean water and improved sanitation along with health and hygiene education. One result of the project was that more fathers (the decision-makers in this community) sent their children to school and kept them there. For the first time, older students were graduating to secondary schools. I met one of them, a teenage girl whose eyes had been opened to an entirely new future by her experience at a boarding school.
On the same visit I met a girl about the same age whose father had taken a traditional path and offered her in marriage to a village elder as a third wife. The young woman was holding her first baby and settling into a life that would not likely include additional formal education or opportunities beyond traditional village life.
The decisions dads make have profound impact on their children. That’s not to minimize the huge role mothers play. But too often, I’m afraid, we don’t take into account that fathers can be significant advocates for transformational change, or roadblocks to it.
When it comes to improving the lives of children in communities affected by poverty and disease, dads aren’t a silver bullet either. But they are by definition an important part of the solution.
With that in mind, I say to dads everywhere: Happy Father’s Day.