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Why we must educate all our women

Data Science, a local data analytic firm shows that if we educate every woman to high school level, fertility rate (children born per a woman) will come down from 6.7 for women without education at all to 3.1 for women with at least high school education.

Even women with primary education, the fertility rate is far less at five than their colleagues with no education at all.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates Kenya’s total fertility rate to be 3.54 in 2014 against the global average of 2.45.

Most countries with a fertility rate of over three are in Africa and poor. Africans bore many children because of disease that killed many children. At some point also many children was a blessing because they became part of labour force mostly on land.

In some cases culture and religion has played a key role in influencing greater fertility rates. In present day Africa, land is becoming a scarce resource.

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Life expectancy is increasing and infant mortality is coming down. There is reason for Africa to change gears and lower her fertility rate as a strategy to fight poverty.

Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus was an English cleric and scholar, influential in the fields of political economy and demography. He wrote a book ‘‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’’ and first published it in 1798 under the alias Joseph Johnson.

In his writing, he observed what became to be known as the demographic-economic paradox. The term “paradox” comes from the notion that greater means would necessitate the production of more offspring as he suggested.

In essence, nations with higher GDP per capita are observed to have fewer children, even though a richer population can support more children.

Malthus held that in order to prevent widespread suffering, from famine for example, what he called “moral restraint” (which included abstinence) was required.

The demographic-economic “paradox suggests that reproductive restraint arises naturally as a consequence of economic progress.”

There is no justification therefore to bring another life willingly into the world if you are not able to feed yourself.

Kenya is still food insecure, land is increasingly becoming unproductive due antiquated farming methods, unemployment is soaring and precipitating crime.

The best we can do is to mitigate against rising population that we now have scientific evidence on how to deal with it before it gets out of hand. Every statistical index calls for action.

Index Mundi ranks Kenya at position 130 out of 205 countries in terms of total literacy which stands at 87.4 per cent. Deeper analytics show that literacy among men (90.6 per cent) is greatly unequal to that of women (84.2 per cent).

A Unesco and Unicef report of 2007 addressed the issue of education from a rights-based approach. The report identified three interrelated rights and must be addressed in concert in order to provide education for all:

The right of access to education - Education must be available for, accessible to and inclusive of all children weather male or female gender.

The right to quality education - Education needs to be child-centred, relevant and embrace a broad curriculum, and be appropriately resourced and monitored.

The right to respect within the learning environment - Education must be provided in a way that is consistent with human rights, equal respect for culture, religion and language and free from all forms of violence.

Poverty is one of the major causes of disparities in education especially in the rural areas. The unavailability of sanitary towels for example, hurts the girl’s education not just due to absenteeism but it destroys their self-esteem leading to poor participation and retention of knowledge.

In some rural areas the school environment is known to be insecure and sexual violence from their teachers violates the very rights Unesco/Unicef are trying to address.

Their problems are further compounded by lack of learning materials, the negative stereotypes from teachers and society. Some communities in Kenya practice primitive cultures of marrying off their daughters as young as ten years olds.

Research shows when a woman has education, they are able to seek medical attention not just for themselves but for their offspring too. This simple fact reduces infant mortality rates significantly.

There is no mistake to state that Knowledge empowers women and protects our re-generation.

No wonder Brigham Young said, “You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.”

Dr Ndemo is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.

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