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Female Politicians Inspire Women In India To Pursue More Education, MIT Study Finds

Women Politicians India

First Posted: 01/18/12 03:22 PM ET Updated: 01/18/12 03:22 PM ET

Increased presence and visibility of female politicians in local government raises the academic performance and career aspirations of young women in India, according to a new study based on a survey of roughly 8,000 girls and their parents.

The study, co-authored by MIT Economist Esther Duflo, focused on young women in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, where for over 20 years one-third of village council positions have been randomly reserved for women as part of an ongoing effort to increase the presence of females in local government, according to an MIT press release.

During 2007, Duflo and her colleagues traveled to 495 villages around India and surveyed families with children age 11 to 15 in an effort to determine whether there was a gap in expectations for male and female children.

In villages that never had female political leaders, researchers found parents were 45 percent less likely to expect their daughters to continue beyond secondary school. The girls themselves were 32 percent less likely to have those aspirations.

In contrast, parents in villages where female leaders serve in local government, like those in West Bengal, had the same educational expectations of their daughters as for their sons. The study also found that these girls were 25 percent more likely to expect to achieve the same level of educational as their male peers.

"We think this is due to a role-model effect: Seeing women in charge persuaded parents and teens that women can run things, and increased their ambitions," Duflo, a co-founder of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), said in the news release. "Changing perceptions and giving hope can have an impact on reality."

The study notes, however, that while attitudes have changed as more female political leaders take office, employment opportunities for young women did not.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg discussed the issue of workplace inequality for women with the New Yorker last year, arguing the problem doesn't stem from sexism or society, but with women themselves.

When Sandberg spoke at the TEDWomen conference last year, she cited statistics showing that while more women are graduating from college and graduate school than men, they represent a tiny percentage of seats in national parliaments, in company boardrooms and in other sectors, Ken Auletta wrote in the New Yorker.

A number of women in positions of power have made statements similar to Sandberg's.

"We need to convince women that the only way to really make a change is to stop complaining and just be the owner of power," Senator Cecilia Lopez Montaño, the speaker of the opposition Liberal Party in Colombia, told The New York Times for a story about the rising number of women serving in parliament. "It is a huge fight because men have been controlling power for centuries."

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Filed by Jocelyn Richard  |