Education is the key to equality, financial education is first on the agenda
The battle for gender equality is above all a battle of human, civil and social rights. It is a battle in which, thanks to many women of the past (starting, in Italy, with the 21 “constituent mothers”) and to international organizations such as the United Nations, much progress has been made. However, this progress is not enough: in many areas of the planet women are still openly subjected to male domination, sometimes bordering on slavery, with abuse, segregation, physical and psychological violence, unfortunately even where equality is proclaimed in principle. It is fair to remember, in our rich but increasingly unequal and disheartened Western countries, that for many of these women the only way out is a desperate journey on a boat; and not so much for themselves as for their sons and daughters.
However, the road to emancipation is also a matter of personal responsibility, which is always accompanied by freedom of choice. It is the indissoluble binomial between “freedom to” (doing/not doing, taking one path rather than the other, etc.) and “freedom from” (need, illness, addiction, etc.): without the latter, the former has no value since in situations of need it is in fact impossible to exercise independent choices; without the first, even freedom from essential material needs is sterile, as demonstrated by the Iranian girls who fight not for bread but to be free to choose.
At the basis of the process of women’s emancipation there is above all education, which broadens horizons, opens our eyes to denied opportunities, increases awareness of the unacceptability of one’s state, pushes us to participate in collective life to change laws and customs deemed unjust . Equal access to education for all girls and boys in the world is one of the crucial objectives of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development of the UN, but it will be difficult to achieve anywhere in the established period. And this despite the fact that the educational gap has, in many Western countries (including ours), passed to the detriment of men.
Education is still – despite growing evidence to the contrary, in this time of poor work – the best tool for a more satisfying and remunerative working (and social) position. And it is decent work – which always requires, little or a lot, knowledge and skills – that allows you to free yourself from need, plan your future, decide about your own life. Without education, women are inevitably at the mercy of a man, who acts as a moral and legal authority and claims to know and to impose what is good for the woman who “is entrusted to him”, by society or by religion. An essential part of emancipation is therefore economic independence, for which a minimum of economic-financial knowledge today falls within the general concept of literacy for the contemporary world, not necessarily to support it but also to improve it (how can one change something that not known?). For this reason, the OECD, which has always been very active in financial education programs specifically aimed at women, supports training initiatives in many poor and less poor countries so that the population – especially women – familiarize themselves with the basic concepts, functional to more farsighted choices and efficient for themselves (for example, in the management of entrepreneurial activities) and for their children (financing, for example, their education). Of course, these are long-term programs that clash with the carelessness of certain slogans and give meaning to the “let’s help them at home” with which we often relieve our conscience with respect to the plight of migrants, but which are essential to help the transformations depths that many countries, and not only in Africa, need.
Research on economic-financial education has in fact revealed that women – of all ages and from all countries – often lack the minimum baggage of knowledge necessary to manage their lives in a more independent manner. The answers to the questionnaires reveal this, even taking into account the lower self-esteem of women, which often leads them to choose the “I don’t know” even when they have a good chance of giving the correct answer; their lack of confidence is offset by the greater (often excessive) confidence of the men. This explains about a third of the gender gap in basic financial knowledge.
And the other two-thirds? They depend on so-called “cultural” roots, which however reflect ignorance, discrimination, stereotypes. The differences begin with the language used respectively towards girls and boys; in the toys with which they are made to play; in suggested books, often full of clichés; continue in the family and social encouragement towards more scientific paths for boys and more humanistic ones for girls, with consequent fewer job opportunities, career progression, salary; they lead to stereotypes and linguistic metaphors that end up alienating women from certain areas and alienating them (“I don’t understand anything about economics and finance”), leading them to make choices that do not favor their financial inclusion. We should not be surprised if women are also penalized in old age, with pensions on average lower than those paid to men. A social and political framework that reveals how little value is still attributed to women’s economic independence.
Eliminating this gender gap, even where good equality laws exist, requires not only appropriate policy choices – such as the introduction of gender quotas, tax incentives for hiring women, credit facilities for investments in entrepreneurial activities – but also a specific commitment to implement financial education programmes, starting from schools. From a life-cycle perspective, the benefits of such an investment ‘compound’ over time and can be substantial. Lack of equality, on the other hand, creates inefficiency and tramples on meritocracy. Our country has made good progress, even recently, in terms of equality at the top of power but much remains to be done for true economic independence, a premise for fuller equality.