Global warming? Terrorism? Fundamentalisms? Racism? Sexism? International crime? Water? GM crops? Sometimes (most times, maybe) most of us just want to switch to the entertainment channel and forget all about it. It might be because we don’t care, but quite often it’s because we just can’t see what “little ol’ me” could do about it.

The article Global Population: From explosion to implosion? by Koïchiro Matsuura, Director General of Unesco, in yesterday’s Mail&Guardian, addresses the population explosion and asks whether it might turn into an “implosion” due to the demographics of age and childbearing and their different impacts in the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres. It’s important to read, and not too long or too hard (because statistics always have a slightly numbing and distancing effect, I think, as opposed to personal stories that engage one’s empathy but are therefore sometimes very draining).

The best part about it, for me, is the conclusion, which clearly shows a way forward by focusing on priorities for action. Essentially, it’s one priority — education to develop “knowledge societies” that have the expertise and knowhow to solve their problems, but within that, the first priority is basic education for women and the second the development of a culture of life-long learning for all:

Basic education is first and foremost — especially the education of girls, the best contraceptive of all. According to one study, there are regions where girls are excluded from secondary schooling and the women have an average of seven children each. Where girls’ school enrolment is just 40%, this mean figure falls to three.

Life-long education for all ought to be recognised as an essential priority as well, for this is the answer to ageing populations and rising life expectancy. As knowledge and skills become outdated more rapidly, and people face the need to keep up by retraining or changing occupation, the demand for education is increasingly going to become a life-long matter. At bottom, this is good news: the world population will become older, admittedly, but individual humans will spend more of their lives in what counts as “youth” — for they will never stop learning.

What’s great about this for me is that it’s reinforced my thoughts about where best to spend money that I’ve earmarked for charity (and probably also some that I hadn’t, as I reflect on just how important this is). Education, education, education. Particularly for women. Particularly for those women where knowledge and competence will make the greatest difference in their and their families’ lives. Educating the most disadvantaged girls and women could have a profound effect on the population balance and also enable increasingly more people to look after themselves. It’s in everyone’s interest, even that of those who still don’t care.

The article Discrimination against girls ‘still deeply entrenched’ by Terri Judd and Harriet Griffey in today’s Independent quotes statistics from the Plan International report “Because I am a Girl” which show me very clearly that the issue of gender status is not yet a curiosity for the history books:

    Almost 100 million girls “disappear” each year, killed in the womb or as babies…
    … two million girls a year still suffer genital mutilation
    … half a million die during pregnancy – the leading killer among 15 to 19-year-olds – every 12 months
    … an estimated 7.3 million are living with HIV/Aids compared with 4.5 million young men.
    Almost a million girls fall victim to child traffickers each year compared with a quarter that number of boys
    …. Of the 1.5 billion people living on less than 50p a day, 70 per cent are female
    … 96 million young women aged 15 to 24 (are) unable to read or write – almost double the number for males.
    62 million girls are not even receiving primary school education
    … an estimated 450 million have stunted growth because of childhood malnutrition.

The article goes on to say that while many of the worst figures apply to developing countries, there is still clear statistical evidence of sexual discrimination in the north, and gives specific examples in the UK.

As I write about this, I’m obviously challenged to think what exactly I’m doing about it. I might be making a very tiny contribution by blogging about the status and perception of women (amongst the other things I’m interested in) and by contributing to Amnesty International who run several campaigns specifically on behalf of women, and by creating a website (sheTIME) which is intended to offer a place for women to exchange experiences, tips and information about the feminine cycle in order to change their perception of this definitive female experience from negative to positive. sheTIME has been held up a little while the two of us who’ve created it clarify our vision for its future, but I do hope that it will eventually be released for public view. But all of this seems so little a contribution from someone who comes from a place of relative comfort, rank and power when compared to the women the statistics above describe. I know there is more I can do, and in the next few months I will look for appropriate channels. My instinct is to go for educational programmes that target women, because education empowers in the long-term, but I know there are so many other urgent issues as well, like stopping the rape in Darfur.

This morning while musing and browsing, I came across this site that has a huge number of stories about successful programmes in India: http://www.empowerpoor.com/programmereport.asp When the enormity of the problem threatens to overwhelm one, it’s good to be inspired by such a long list of creative solutions that have made and are making a difference.

Here’s another good one to consider: http://www.plan-uk.org/becauseiamagirl/trafficking/

et cetera