Are Women the Key to Improving Societies?

A dear friend of mine, Marne, won an award this week for her involvement and leadership in teaching basic computer skills to once-homeless women at the Women’s Empowerment Center here in Sacramento.  The center is part of Loaves and Fishes and provides a an intensive 8 week skills building program to get homeless women back to work and off the streets.  I have volunteered at the center to set up computers and assist in the computer class.  It is amazing to be part of the transformation of these women.

All women must prove they are clean and sober for entering the program.  They learn lots of skills, computer basics being one of them.  It is amazing the range of women in the program.  Some have been on the streets for awhile and struggled with drugs, never completed high school…what you might expect.  Other women are college graduates who got stuck down a wrong path.  Most have limited computer experience and it is great to see them blossom through the weeks and learn how to get online, write resumes, enter data in excel.  The class gives them the knowledge to go out and get office jobs- ones that pay enough to get them off the street and back on their feet.  One women recently left the class and is going back to college to become a network administrator at age 46!

I have read a few articles, as well as the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson who claim that educating and enabling girls and women is the key to improving societies.  The time I’ve spent at WE and the impact I’ve seen has made me think he might be on to something.

I think in general societies are better off with a more well educated population.  They are better able to resist coming under the influence of dictators, war lords, gangs etc.  Educated people have the knowledge to get jobs, hold jobs, and even be entrepreneurial.  They understand how to get information through reading and filter information, ultimately enabling them to support themselves and their families.

So why does it matter if it is the men or women who are educated?

While both should be educated, I think it’s more important to ensure the women are.  (maybe this is because they tend to be the lesser educated ones, so there are more of them in need of skills)  Women are usually the care takers.  More often than not, they raise children, both boys and girls, and spend the most time with the younger generations.  Educated women see the importance of learning and gaining these skills and will ensure their children follow suit.

At WE, I see women who come in that are just struggling to put food in their children’s mouths.  They are not teaching their children how to get out of the cycle of poverty.  Instead they are teaching their offspring to survive and work within the system.  Once these women complete the program and realize that they can get jobs and get into housing, they speak differently to their kids.  I hear them encouraging their kids to stay in school, to learn, to dream about going to college.  These women can now stand on their feet and support their children.  Their kids see it is possible to be gain confidence and self-respect.  (even when situations turn dire, they see it is possible to break out of it with knowledge)

The computer engineer side of me especially loves that I can support the computer skills part of this transformation.  There is so much information and potential available with the help of the internet.  Computers are the key to unlocking potential.  Everyone can tap into the endless possibilities and find people with similar interests to connect with all over the world.

Here’s to the Marnes and Gregs of the world who are helping educate those who need it most…

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