BU News Service
The ambassador of the Republic of Niger to the United States spoke about empowering women through education during a talk in Dudley Square Wednesday night. Hassana Alidou offered her thoughts on the social and economic benefits of women’s education, as well as the challenges facing women who seek positions of leadership.
“If we educate a boy, we educate one person,” she said, citing an oft-quoted African proverb. “If we educate a girl, we educate a family — and a whole nation.”
Speaking to a roomful of about fifty people in the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, Alidou explained that an educated mother is far more likely to send her children to school than one who is not. Collectively, this has wide-reaching consequences for a nation.
Alidou spoke about the social impact of educating women. She noted that religion plays a large part in reproductive decisions in Niger, and due to a lack of female literacy, religious interpretation was once mostly mediated through men who were able to read the Quran or the Bible.
Education has now opened doors for women to interpret their religion for themselves, which in turn empowers them to make informed decisions about reproduction. Female education is also associated with decreased infant and child mortality, Alidou said.
She pushed the economic benefits of educating women. Women’s education contributes to a country’s economic growth. An extra year of primary schooling can increase a woman’s income by 10-20 percent. An extra year of secondary schooling can increase her income by 15-25 percent.
“There is no better investment than education,” said Alidou, whose talk was sponsored by the West African Research Association (WARA), WorldBoston, the Boston Network for International Development, and the United Nations Association of Greater Boston.
She described education reforms in her own country: children now have free access to school until they are 16 years old. She believes all world leaders need to focus and invest in education.
But it doesn’t end there.
Alidou challenged leaders to find ways to provide fair access to the job market, noting that women often face discrimination, even when the education piece is there.
She elaborated on strategies to address some of the challenges women face in accessing opportunities. She thinks it is essential for women to reach across the aisle and work with the majority shareholders of power — men.
“To negotiate power, you have to know that you’re asking somebody to relinquish a little bit of their own power so that you can share it,” she said. “Women make progress when they find men in the community who strongly believe that women can do things.”
Alidou’s former professor and current executive director of WARA, Jennifer Yanco, agreed. “You really need to work with people,” she said. “Simplistic confrontational approaches are not going to work.”
Alidou believes women should not bear their burden alone.
“Men have to be in solidarity with us,” she said.
She believes that the concept of positive discrimination (known here in the Unites Stated as affirmative action) has an important place in ensuring women in places like Niger are given a chance to flourish.
“When a constitution says all citizens are equal, it means you and I and my brothers have equal opportunity,” she said. “But the fact of the matter is that this is not the case.”
Alidou thinks the government should set mandatory quotas for the number of women holding positions of leadership.
“Minorities and women around the world are not asking for a handout,” she said. “They’re asking for a chance.”