Empowering Women

| Sun Nov. 14, 2010 12:51 PM EST

Dani Rodrik notes the surprising news that among the countries that have most improved their human development indicators since 1970, the stars are mostly Muslim countries, including several in North Africa:

What was their secret? Determined policies to expand educational opportunities and access to health along with a willingness to depart from the conventional wisdom of the day and experiment with their own remedies. Even though all three North African countries are Moslem, empowering of women seems to have played an important role as well:

There is now substantial evidence that the health and schooling of children can be raised by empowering women, and this is precisely what Tunisia did when it raised the minimum age for marriage, revoked the colonial ban on imports of contraceptives, instituted the first family planning programme in Africa, legalized abortion, made polygamy illegal, and gave women the right to divorce as well as the right to stand and vote for election.

This comes up repeatedly. As near as I can tell, the single most important thing that developing countries can do to ensure themselves a brighter future is to educate and empower women. I'm not sure there's even a close second.