This post comes from Naomi Tutu and Join My Village. Naomi Tutu is a long-time race and gender equality advocate and daughter of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. She is serving as an ambassador for Join My Village, an online social change initiative that seeks to empower women and girls in the developing world through economic opportunity and access to education. Right now you can sign Join My Village’s pledge to support women and girls in Malawi, and $1 will go toward giving women and girls in Malawi access to education and opportunity.

Access to Education is One of the Most Powerful Opportunities We Can Offer

In late September, Dr. Wangari Maathai founder of the Green belt Movement in Kenya, died of cancer. Dr. Maathai was an activist, leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was a woman who knew and taught the importance of protecting the natural environment, and of educating and empowering all members of our communities. Her passing was a major loss to people all over the world. It was a particular loss to the women of Africa, who considered her ours in a special way, and her achievements a reflection of who we can be in the world.

Just as we were mourning the loss of one of our brightest and best came the news that three women would share the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Two of the three, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee are from Liberia, and have each played important roles in the move in that country from years of civil war to democracy.

Johnson Sirleaf was elected President in the first truly democratic election in that country and therefore became the first woman to lead an African country. Gbowee was a founder of the inter-faith women’s movement that brought an end to the civil war through peaceful protest. Again, people all over the world celebrated the honor, but it holds a special importance to African women. We see in the recognition of these women a recognition of the courage and dignity of women of Africa.

Each of these three women of Africa place their access to education as central to who they became. They all speak of the empowerment they received along with the academic subjects they were taught. They each place access to education as one of the most important rights we can give to the children of Africa.

As the Nobel Peace Committee stated in giving this year’s prize:

We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.

Access to education is one of the most powerful opportunities we can offer girls. It might be that none of the girls who receive an education through the work of Join My Village receives a Nobel Peace Prize. There might not be a future president of a country among them. But even if there is neither of those, we know that by virtue of the education they receive they will be empowered to change their families and communities for the better. And maybe, just maybe, there is a young Wangari, Ellen or Leymah being educated right now through your generosity.

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