Women in the World

03.10.12

Sarah Brown: We Share a Moral Obligation to Educate Girls Now

Educating girls can transform the world, Sarah Brown, Dr. Ida Betty Odinga and Shelly Esque tell ABC’s Juju Chang of their quest for universal primary education.

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Marc Bryan-Brown

Sarah Brown, Dr. Ida Betty Odinga and Shelly Esque are three women dedicated to educating girls. They took the stage at the Women in the World summit Saturday afternoon to explain how they are working to help achieve one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development goals: universal primary education. 

ABC’s Juju Chang kicked off the panel discussion with what she called a “revolutionary” thought: “educate girls and change the world,” she posited. “In just one generation we can break the cycle of poverty. Girls are the key.”

Brown, wife of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the president of PiggyBankKids, told the audience that 67 million children are currently not in school, more than half of which are girls. “We share a moral obligation to reach those girls now,” she declared.

Brown works with Dr. Odinga, wife of the Kenya’s current prime minister, to keep girls from Kenya and other developing countries in school and away from childhood marriages—a cultural obligation that plagues many young girls. “The truth of the matter is, if that girl is in school, she’s not out there married or facing any of these things that might come her way,” such as genital mutilation or a pregnancy for which her young body is ill-equipped. Odinga explained it often helps to offer certain incentives to get Kenyan girls into the classroom, as many of them live far from the closets schools and don’t have access to food that they can bring for lunch. She said offering students meals draws them in, as does free sanitary napkins, since many girls in impoverished areas tend to miss school when they have their periods.

The two have also collaborated to create Educators Without Borders, building pop-up schools for children living in refugee camps. “Besides the fact that they are refugees, they are still children and they need their education,” said Odinga.

All of the women on stage agreed that a cooperation between non-profits, governments and business is necessary for facilitating real change in terms of educating young girls. Shelly Esque, who is the vice president of corporate affairs for Intel, noted her corporation’s effort to connect with local governments to provide the best quality teachers and educational opportunities for girls around the globe. “Education equals hope,” Esque said.