by Kris Coulston

Education is the gateway for women to climb to positions of power and influence in the world. As Malala Yuusafzai has said, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” Education for women is crucial for progress and change in the world, and Malala’s words could not be truer. Education is powerful. Educated women are powerful. Educated and empowered women are the catalyst for progress – success is not possible without them.

Around the globe, educated women have been at the forefront of economic and political success. Many women have made positive strides in the areas of economics and politics. Angela Merkel ascended to the highest political position in Germany, making her one of the most powerful woman in the free world. Hillary Clinton shattered the glass ceiling when she became her party’s presidential nominee, inspiring women and girls everywhere. Christine Lagarde became the first female director of the International Monetary Fund. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Libera in 2005, making her the first female head of state in Africa. Many more educated and empowered women continue to make strides in the economic and political spheres worldwide. Yet, even with the many notable contributions women have made, gender inequality continues to be a problem.

Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and U.S. President Barack Obama (2010)

Niger is one country where gender inequality persists. For example, only 2.5% of women have received any form of secondary education, and many of them are subject to gender-restrictive religious and cultural practices. While it is illegal to discriminate against women in Niger, gender disparity is still widespread. The progress of the entire country of Niger will remain hampered if women’s education continues to be limited or non-existent.  With empowered and educated women in politics, Niger could more effectively tackle some of the largest problems they’re facing.

There is no doubt that Niger is a resilient nation and a country that has overcome many difficulties. Niger was able to gain independence, overcome a constitutional crisis, and lead the way in conjunction with other countries in combatting Boko Haram in southern Niger. Now, it is time for Niger to lead the way in gender parity and female empowerment. Doing so will help the country conquer the many other crises it faces.

Barriers include a poor state of public health, lack of educational opportunities, high illiteracy rates and extreme food and water shortage. Nigerien women should not be limited to domestic duties such as searching for and collecting water, but should be free to use their voices to contribute to the economy and influence political change.

In Niger’s current political state, women are largely unrepresented, broadening the gender divide and hurting the quality of life. If Nigerien women continue to be hindered from ascending to government ranks, many important issues will go unaddressed, such as healthcare, family planning, education, and access to clean water.

Ready access to clean water is essential for empowering Nigerien women. If they have ready access to clean water, they can devote their time to education. Education would allow them to contribute to the economy and be part of the decision-making process in their homes and communities. They would be able to set the tone for the next generation of Nigerien women. The possibilities would be endless if they had ready access to clean water.

Change won’t happen overnight, but there must be a starting point, and ready access to clean water is the starting point in Niger. As President Barack Obama once said, “If you are walking down the right path and you are willing to keep walking, eventually you will make progress.” If we begin with clean water and continue along that path, real and positive change for the women of Niger is possible.

Read more about the effects of educated women and economic growth here.