One of the largest issues facing women today is an inability for women to reach professional goals.  This comes from a shortage of available education and a need for more mentors.  It takes a lot of courage and determination to pursue professional goals, especially in a male dominated field or in a culture where women are expected to stay at home. Education and a positive mentor is the key to building confidence professionally and when young girls see a woman who has pursued her dreams then they too can gain the confidence to accomplish their own goals.  The issue with education changes cross culturally, but the solution remains: Girls need a mentor.

In developed countries education is more readily available but young girls are not encouraged to pursue all the subject areas. Although many more woman are studying business, law and medicine, math and science are still not emphasized enough and the majority of women focus on social sciences. One of the problems is that there are not as many women holding the top positions in the science and technology fields, so young girls do not have mentors or people to that show them they can do it.

In developing countries the problem is a shortage of available education and a large emphasis on girls and their domestic role in the home. Here in Panama, as in many developing countries, school is often only offered until the 6th grade. After the 6th grade, it depends if the family has enough money to send the child outside of the area to attend secondary school or a University.  This often proves to be impossible. It is also tradition for girls to marry young and start having children so school is not seen as an important priority.

A good example of the glaring reminder of tradition and the role education can play to pull women out of their specified roles is in one of the Embera communities in Panama Oeste.  This community has a strong division among family groups.  In the back of the community are clusters of families who have sent both their girls and boys to school.  The women are in elected leadership positions and have waited until their twenties to get married and have children. The families in the front of the community often stop sending their girls to school before the 6th grade. Many of these women have 5 or 6 children before the age of 25 and are exhausted by the responsibilities that come with that many children.

Cross-country studies show that an extra year of schooling for girls reduces fertility rates by 5 to 10 per cent. If girls, especially in developing countries, had a mentor that encouraged the importance of education many women may wait to have children and focus on becoming leaders in their community and accomplishing professional goals.

Education is a sticky subject, especially cross-culturally, but without access to it and without someone encouraging women to attend it, women cannot move forward. Cultural roles and fertility rates can change depending on the education that is available.  Girls can change the path they take depending on the mentors and the visibility of accomplished women in their lives. If societies around the world found more value in education and mentorship programs, women could be a more powerful force.

Vital Voices is a organization that is working everyday to empower women around the world.