Education is the key to global gender equity.

President Lynn Pasquerella with participants in the Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders program. Photo by John Kuchle

“We’re all here because we care deeply about the future of women and girls on our planet,” Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella told a group of 20 young African women visiting campus as part of a U.S. State Department-sponsored leadership development program. Pasquerella also spoke about her personal educational journey, the global gender-equality gap, and her efforts to further the cause of gender equality around the world.

“We can’t move forward as an international community unless the rights of women are honored,” she said, noting that education is key to that process. “Investing in girls and their education is the surest way to spur international development. And the inverse is also true—not educating girls and young women sends a nation’s development into a tailspin. Quite clearly, women’s education is good for families, nations, and prosperity as well as the well-being of the world.”

The July 29 Mount Holyoke visit was part of a five-week Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders program run by Simmons College. University students from six nations—Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and Sudan—listened to Pasquerella’s remarks and then posed incisive questions. Their queries reflected weighty concerns—How do you convince reluctant families of education’s value? Isn’t education more than just book learning? How can we fight hidden bias against females?

In responding, Pasquerella addressed perhaps the most fundamental question of all: What is the purpose of an education? “Education helps you deal with basic questions of human existence,” she said. “The challenge before us is not simply to build more schools, to make sure more girls are in classrooms, or to increase the nation’s gross national product. We also need to think about the deeper issues around educating young women,” she said. “We need mentors and role models for young women to show that learning adds dignity to life. It opens the mind to possibilities and helps a woman control her own destiny.”

“Education must encourage women to be bold, assertive, resilient, and forward-thinking,” she noted. “Women and girls have a right to the life of the mind. Investing in girls will change the world.”

—By Emily Harrison Weir