Smart Girls vs. Bombs

The past several days of the New York Times seem to carry the theme of the global war for women.

Two terrific pieces, the first by Nicholas Kristof — Smart Girls vs. Bombs – After doing some slicing and dicing of American foreign policy, Kristof points out that, instead of going to war and arming so-called allies, maybe we should be spending our money on educating girls:

Education is also a bargain. For the cost of deploying a single American soldier abroad for a year, we can start more than 20 schools.

In Afghanistan, where we did support education for girls, hundreds of Afghan women helped lead a march against religious extremism last month after the beating death of a woman falsely accused of burning a Quran. It was a rare home-grown campaign for moderation.

The advantage of educating girls is also demographic. One of the factors most associated with civil conflict is a youth bulge in the population, the result of very high birthrates. To reduce birthrates, it particularly helps to educate girls: Every extra four years of primary schooling for a girl is linked to about one fewer child.

Empowering women isn’t a panacea. Educated girls sometimes become terrorists. Women leaders often have been disappointing. But, on balance, girls’ education reduces birthrates, expands the labor force, induces moderation and promotes economic growth rather than terrorism.

Terrorists understand this. That’s why the Taliban throws acid at schoolgirls; that’s why Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria (think of those girls in the coming days as they reach a year in captivity).

Consider Yemen, where grenades were openly selling for $4 each in a market near Sada when I visited. Rocket-propelled grenade launchers, $500. Anti-tank mines, $22. The Bush and Obama administrations both tried to stabilize Yemen by providing even more arms, many of which fell into the hands of Houthi rebels. So, lately, we’ve been helping Saudis bomb the very supplies we provided.

If instead we had invested in girls’ education, it wouldn’t necessarily have stabilized Yemen. But it could hardly have done worse.

So instead of pummeling each other on foreign policy, let’s look for lessons learned. Surely one of them is that to counter terrorists, sometimes a girl with a book is more powerful than a drone in the sky.

And look at this wonderful photograph–more than a 1000 words–that topped Kristof’s opinion piece:


An Afghan girl at school in Parwan Province. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
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