For centuries, Oxford University has educated many of the world’s greatest leaders, humanitarians and social changers. Among them are some of the most influential women of the developing world, including Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, founder of Pakistan’s People’s Party and the first woman prime minister of a Muslim country, Nobel Prize laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi, leader of the Burmese National League for Democracy, and Indira Gandhi, the first female prime minister of India and the second female head of government in the world.
It is with this history in mind that One Woman a Year International (OWAY) was founded.
OWAY is a nonprofit advocacy group that aims to increase the number of young women to pursue undergraduate studies at the University of Oxford.
You may ask why we have decided to support the pursuit of undergraduate studies. There are many programs that support post-graduate studies for students from developing countries, including the Rhodes, Fulbright and Weidenfeld scholarships, but successful individuals who are accepted in these initiatives almost always live in the West and have Western undergraduate educations.
There are few resources available for women from developing countries for their undergraduate studies and no such scholarship program at Oxford. Providing such women the opportunities to access undergraduate degrees gives them the opportunity to excel and gain access to prestigious postgraduate programs.
Leading economists, such as Jeffrey Sachs, journalists, including The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, non profits groups, like the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and organizations from the World Bank to the United Nations have identified the advancement of women and girls in all societies as one of the only ways to eradicate the world’s most pressing social, political and economic problems including poverty, infant, child and maternal mortality and diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Simply stated, when girls are educated they are empowered:
- With a ten percent rise in the number of girls who go to school, a country’s GDP increases by three per cent on average. (US Agency for International Development)
- Girls who are educated are better able to delay marriage, have fewer and healthier children, and influence household negotiations such that family income will be spent on the education and survival of her children rather than on alcohol, drugs, and prostitutes. (UN Population Fund)
- A girl who completes basic education is much less likely to contract HIV/AIDS, because she will have the knowledge and skills to protect herself, and because the men around her will become more receptive to prevention messages. (UNAIDS, UN Population Fund, UN Development Fund for Women)
- “Closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs alone could lift 100-150 million people out of hunger.” (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
- And through education, women are better able to understand and enforce their legal rights, avoid being trafficked into slavery or forced into starvation so their male relatives can be well-nourished, and to become leading social entrepreneurs within their communities and invest their wages back into their families and societies. (Half the Sky)
Yet, even with basic education, there are barriers that still prevent women from making change. Malcolm Ehrenpreis, gender specialist at the World Bank, stated last year that, “in the last twenty years or so, women and girls have reached much higher education levels than they had before. Yet there has been very little progress in terms of access to the economy.”
However, if young women can access higher education at prestigious universities like Oxford, they will hold:
- greater economical and political value, and thus power to make changes on the national level;
- have the backing of the university name, which allows them to be taken seriously when they enter politics, law or business, and successfully enforce policies rather than merely standing in as token puppets;
- and contribute to greater female participation in their countries’ economies and societies, which has the potential to disempower extremist thinking, groups and terrorists, as shown by the U.S. Pentagon.
Michael Moritz, an Oxford alumnus who has recently established a scholarship program for low income UK students, says: “Real talent is housed everywhere. Our new scholarship program means that a gifted student, irrespective of financial circumstances, will always be 100 per cent confident they can study at Oxford.