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17Jun

The Double X Economy by Linda Scott review – the need to empower women

Calling out hostile men ... a rallying cry for global female equality and a strong counter to ‘lean in’ feminism

Why do girls in parts of rural Africa so often drop out of school in their teens? When Linda Scott started asking this question in Ghana more than a decade ago, the received wisdom she got was that girls are just too materialistic; they want clothes and phones, so they start trading sex for them, and then end up falling out of education because they are pregnant. The problem, she was told, lay with girls themselves.

It won’t surprise many people to learn that this turned out to be the wrong answer. Scott, an Oxford scholar and expert in women’s economic empowerment, was in Ghana testing the theory that girls drop out of school when their periods start due to a lack of sanitary pads. But she quickly discovered that it wasn’t just the embarrassment of being seen to bleed through their clothes that deterred them from staying in class. A girl reaching the age of menstruation is deemed old enough to be sexually available; once men find out, she can expect to be followed home from school, sexually harassed, perhaps even raped. Giving girls sanitary pads which allowed them to keep their periods secret would not protect them for ever from predatory males, she concluded, but it could buy them a little more time in education. Sure enough, the girls who enrolled in a pilot project handing out free pads and information on puberty did spend more days in school. But that solution wouldn’t have been possible without turning the question on its head, asking not what’s wrong with girls, but what might be wrong with the conditions under which they are forced to live.

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