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Education empowers and transforms women. It allows them to break the cycle of exclusion that keeps them at home and disengaged from decision-making. As founder of BRAC, the 2019 Yidan Prize laureate Sir Fazle Hasan Abed was widely recognized as a champion of girls’ education and women’s empowerment.
BRAC’s work shows that when women have access to opportunities and resources—such as education, healthcare, ownership of assets, skills training, support networks, stable income—they have more control, not only in their households, but also over their own futures. They can also lift their families out of poverty—and become agents of change in their lives and communities.
Celebrating BRAC’s 50th anniversary, Yidan Prize talked to Mr Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC Bangladesh, about creating a better world through girls’ education and women’s empowerment.
- Why is girls’ education so important to BRAC?
Because educating girls and empowering young women is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but also a necessary foundation for a humane and inclusive society, and a prosperous economy. Our founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, often spoke of women as the most powerful drivers in societies. With little income or assets, they fed the family, looked after the children, and ran their households. He used to say, “If women can manage poverty well, why shouldn’t they manage development?”
Girls are powerful agents of economic and social change, and education is the greatest equalizer. There is growing evidence that girls who finish secondary school live healthier lives, marry later, and have a conscious choice of family size. They earn more, participate in the labor market, and contribute to economies—providing their families with better living conditions and opportunities. Girls who are deprived of education have fewer options, and are less empowered to make their own decisions.
2. At BRAC, what do you see are the challenges of girls’ education?
Girls are the most vulnerable among children in poverty. In some areas, there have been cultural practices that force girls to drop out of school—if they even enrol at all. The challenges are complex and many, for example:
- Some parents tend to invest more in boys than girls;
- Child marriage stops girls from going to school;
- If schools are far away, or if they have predominantly male teachers, parents are often unwilling to send their daughters to school because of safety concerns.
And girls are not only marginalized by gender, there are other barriers that many children in poverty face:
- The stigma of those with special needs;
- Language and cultural barriers for children from ethnic minorities;
3.What is BRAC’s approach in creating better futures for girls and women?
To position and empower women as agents of change.
Like poverty, the hurdles children face in accessing education are complex, and each person or family has a different experience. Addressing these vulnerabilities has always been a key part of BRAC’s work. That’s why since our earliest days of operation, we prioritize girls, identify the barriers they’re facing, and put power in their hands.
Today, BRAC is empowering women and girls through education, healthcare, social enterprises, financial inclusion, and better livelihoods—encouraging their active participation and leadership in local communities and economies.