Education, Gender and sexual health
Today we discuss education, gender and sexual health. My guest, Marni Sommer, has helped develop puberty books for girls and boys in low-income countries. To date, these books have been developed in seven countries, with almost two million copies distributed to girls and boys.
Marni Sommer is an Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University where she leads the GATE (Gender, Adolescent Transitions and Environment) program. She is also the President of the non-profit Grow and Know. In our conversation, she discusses how she navigates being both an academic and development practitioner.
Citation: Sommer, Marni, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 128, podcast audio, October 1, 2018 https://www.freshedpodcast.com/marnisommer/
Will Brehm 1:15
Marni Sommer, welcome to FreshEd.
Marni Sommer 1:17
Hi. It’s great to be here.
Will Brehm 1:19
So soon, the Grow and Know organization with which you work will be launching a book for girls in Kenya to teach them about puberty. Can you tell me a little bit about what this book intends to do?
Marni Sommer 1:32
Yes, absolutely. We’re very excited. We’ve done books in a lot of countries. So we’re excited to finally have an addition in Kenya. The aim of the book, which is targeted primarily at ten to 14 year old girls, so really end of primary school and sometimes early secondary, depending on which country they’re in and the school system, is to help them understand what’s happening to their body as they go through early puberty, their first menstruation, to try and remove some of the fear and the shame when the embarrassment that we found in studies girls frequently feel at the start of those significant body changes; to help them feel more confident and empowered about what’s happening, and to encourage them to seek out guidance and information from older sisters, mothers, parents, of some caregivers, teachers, or healthcare workers if they have something more serious going on.
Will Brehm 2:21
And you said that this book has been incorporated into many different countries. Which which other countries has this book and your work been involved in?
Marni Sommer 2:30
So we started a number of years ago – I’d say 2009 – in Tanzania. We did our first girls’ puberty book, which came out of some research I did, trying to understand girls’ experiences of menstruation and schooling, and what some of the barriers may be for them as their body starts to change and they have to manage their periods in school environments. We then went on to do similar books in Ghana, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and then a couple years later, we did a book in Madagascar and Pakistan finished up about a year ago. And then other people have adapted some of our methods to do a book in Laos, and Save the Children has done books in – I can’t even remember which countries – I think Uganda, maybe Vietnam, Bolivia, Malawi. So the books are spreading, in slightly different variations, but they’re spreading.
Will Brehm 3:23
And what is your method?
Marni Sommer 3:24
So our method is, there’s sort of multiple phases that we go through. We try to work very closely with the Ministry of Education, or in sometimes it’s the Ministry of Health as well, and other key stakeholders in a country. So my little teams will spend about a month when they first get to a country. The foremost most important thing is making sure that the Ministry of Education and local stakeholders actually wants a book and thinks it’s useful. Once we have that sort of blessing to go ahead, and that it’s something that would be useful and meaningful to them and to, they think, the girls in their society, we spend a few weeks getting to know the key stakeholders, getting their inputs, gathering relevant policy documents, looking at the school curriculum, figuring out where we should go do the research. And then the team spend about three to four weeks, first in a more urban environment, and then three to four weeks in a more rural environment, doing participatory methods with girls. We do the project, we do the research with older adolescent girls, usually 16, 17, 18 years old, because our aim is to have those girls reflect for us – once they’ve gotten through puberty – what they experienced, what the recommendations are for other girls who are going through puberty. We have them write stories about their first menstrual period, who they talked to, or didn’t, how they felt, the advice they have for younger girls coming after them and society. And then we do some key informant interviews with adults, with teachers, with parents, religious leaders trying to understand the world around the girls going through those experiences. And all of that gets incorporated – the stories, the myths, the nicknames girls have for their periods, the basic body change content that you need during early puberty into a draft written content. We then take that written content back to all the key stakeholders. We make sure they all have reviewed it; have given us suggested edits. Then we go hire a local illustrator, a local translator, a local publishing company, with the idea that we really want it to be grounded in every way in that country and in the economy in that country. We get a mocked up version that has all the different illustrations. And that’s always a fun process because sometimes we get illustrations that maybe we think won’t fly with the Ministry, so we go back and forth. But we get the translated, illustrated version. And then we go back to all the key stakeholders; we get their inputs, we field test the book with 11, 12 year old girls who are phenomenal. We spend hours with girls going through every page to make sure each picture is right, that the wording is right, that they understand it. And all the books are bilingual; there’ll be English and a predominant local language on each page. And then once we’ve got everybody’s inputs, we go back, make all the edits that we think are the most important ones, are the most people suggested. And then we finalize it and submit it to the government for approval, and so on.
Will Brehm 6:26
And then typically do the governments then distribute it to schools across the nation, or do they do some piloting?
Marni Sommer 6:49
It happens differently in each country. The model we’ve generally use – because I do this on the side of the other things I do as a faculty at Columbia University, and I don’t have a lot of free time for it. We usually publish around 15,000 copies to start that I call seed copies or pilot copies. We give those out to all the different NGOs, the UN agencies, the Ministry – people who want to try using the book – and we gather some small evaluation data, feedback. One of my biggest issues is, even though we’ve had so many people look at each version along the way, I never want a book to go out there that in any way could get a girl in trouble for reading it. And since the idea of the books is they don’t need an adult, so you can hand them to girls directly. They can read it on their own, their sisters can read it, they can share it with their brothers, their parents. So the idea is to really get them into girls’ hands. And I want to make sure that if they take that book home and a parent sees the pictures or reads some of it, or can’t read and only sees the pictures, that they for sure are comfortable with the content. And we’ve never had something bad happened, we’ve only gotten positive feedback. Once the book gets approval from the government, it gets scaled in all different ways. Sometimes the government will ask UNICEF or UNFPA, or another organization DFID in some countries to support more scaling of the book. So they will order it and distribute it through their programming. Sometimes NGOs come to us and do big orders or small orders. So it just depends on the country.
Will Brehm 8:13
And what’s interesting is that, it’s obviously not you sitting at Columbia University, writing these books. This is very much grounded in the context in which the book is supposed to be distributed in. So I want to ask a little bit about some of the differences that have come out of these participatory methods that you just explained. How have the books looked differently across different contexts?
Marni Sommer 8:38
It’s a great question and it really is super important to us that each book is developed in that country because I feel very strongly that the only way it will be meaningful to that country, to the girls in that country, to the teachers and government, is if they feel it really reflects girls’ experiences and their own society. So, some of the things that differ fundamentally across the books is the menstrual stories. So in the middle of every book, we have five or six stories, written by girls about their first period. Those are totally different, because obviously girls in different countries have different experiences. Usually there are some stories written by girls about having an accident on a uniform or on the chair, or some really mortifying experience that either sent them home from school or they sought out some help or went and hid. But then there are differences, like, for example, in the Ethiopia book, which I didn’t think the government would approve, but they did, there’s a story a girl wrote about how her father saw she was watching a menstrual clock. He thought she got her period because she’d been having sex, because that was sort of a confusion around menstrual periods, and wanted to beat her. And then her mother intervened and protected her and the girl was fine. And those kind of findings came up in other countries. But Ethiopia was the only place where we actually had a story like that and that got included in the book. We’ve gone on to do boys’ puberty books in some countries. And similarly, the stories reflect very differing experiences that boys have. There are commonalities such as peer pressures, and alcohol and all sorts of other things. But the specific stories, I think, are often my favorite part of the book, because they so capture uniqueness of the countries. And then the nicknames the girls use for their periods, which are in the girls’ book, those always differ. The myths that we have at the end of the book, similarly, they differ. We have a Q&A section, which comes from questions we collect directly from girls and boys. Sometimes those are the same across countries, which I find is one of my ways of seeing that the world really is a small place, and we’re all the same. But then there’s always unique questions to a particular country that those kids have that maybe they don’t have it another countries. And then other small ways they differ that one probably wouldn’t pick up on as much if you weren’t involved in the creation of the book, is wording choices. So in Tanzania and other countries, we’ve called girls’ “private areas”, girls’ “secret areas”, but then in Ghana, which was the next country I think we did after Tanzania, they said, “Why are you not using the word “vagina”?” So each country is comfortable to some degree with some language and not other language. And my feeling is, I want the books to scale; I want the Ministry of Education to be a partner, so we also compromise where I feel it’s acceptable to compromise in order to get that level of approval. And then other things we push back on a little if we think they’re really fundamental and should stay in the books.
Will Brehm 11:41
Marni Sommer 11:43
Well, such as content around that menstruation is related to reproduction, and a girl is now able to get pregnant, and that it’s important to have that in the book. Sometimes that wording has to be tweaked. Some countries, I think we have language around, “a girl shouldn’t get pregnant before she’s 18”. And then in another country, it’s “after a girl is 18, she can start to think about it”. They’re just small wording things, but that governments get feel particular about in terms of how we’re expressing what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. And in Kenya, there were really different myths that came up around, I think it was boys trying to persuade girls about having sex and what your menstrual period it was, and I think that was not a myth that people particularly wanted. So we just tweak different things. These are small changes; we keep the fundamental content of the book.
Will Brehm 12:39
Across countries, it’s interesting to think about how context varies, but what about within countries? Because some of these countries are ethnically diverse, religiously diverse, culturally diverse. So how do these books account for that richness within countries?
Marni Sommer 13:00
Really great question, and this was something I was guided on the first time we did a book in Tanzania. And it was not my instinct, and my colleagues, Tanzanian friends and colleagues and the publisher were absolutely right – as to be expected – and not me. My original vision, when I first went to Tanzania, was doing my research which led to this first book was, “Oh, well, I love the idea of the power of stories.” And my original idea was just to have a book of stories, forget any content. I thought it should just be older girls’ stories to younger girls. And we’ll collect stories from all these different tribes, and we’ll put it in the book, and that will be really culturally relevant across this country. And then I came to spend more time in Tanzania and realized, okay, there’s 120 tribes so that’s going to be really hard to do. The second thing I realized is you can’t just give stories, you need puberty content, so they are learning something. But then I started thinking, “Okay, well, maybe we just have stories from like the largest tribes.” And we try to include myths from certain tribes and other tribes, and that the pictures should look like certain tribal outfits versus others, although it’s not that different in Tanzania. But what the Tanzanians said to me, which was super wise, and I have followed this advice in every other country, they said, “Marnie, you are never going to get it right. If you try to depict any tribal group versus another, you’re going to offend somebody, you’re going to be wrong. And it would be much better if you just develop kind of a generic book.” Not generic in that you can pick it up and use it in New Jersey, or you know, another country necessarily, but generic in terms of it reflecting the average experience of a girl or a boy in that country. So you don’t try to make it specific to one tribal group, you don’t try to pull out particular tribal beliefs, you really tried to make it sort of that… I mean, average sounds not interesting, but it just means sort of hit a sweet spot in the middle, where you’re just trying to be generic to that country. And one of the things we try to do when we field test is oftentimes we’ll field test in Dar es Salaam, let’s say, in Tanzania, and Dar es Salaam is such a mix up of different tribal groups that I think you have a good chance of people from all different tribal backgrounds seeing it and reviewing the content, and knowing that you’re hitting it in sort of the right place, hopefully.
Will Brehm 15:15
And I mean, in Dar es Salaam, that in my understanding is an urban center. What about some rural areas in Tanzania?
Marni Sommer 15:21
Well, the data collection happened in more rural areas and more sort of peri-urban areas. And we collect the content from kids in school and out of school, because our feeling is kids who may have dropped out may have had different experiences at puberty that were not as good as kids, perhaps, who stayed in. So we do have a rural and urban context for the data collection in every country. Sometimes, you know, we’re a tiny budget operation, so in the past, we’ve really only collected data from two sites, and then tried to find the average experience across that and what we learned from our key informant interviews in the field testing. But Pakistan, for example, was quite different. Given that it is a decentralized government, we were planning to just do the data collection in one region, as usual, because that was all the budget we had. And frankly, I have found, there’s such similarities across regions within a country, if you’re not going to get into the specifics of, for example, a girl gets pulled out of school because of cultural reasons that puberty or something really dramatic, their average experience of their first menstruation and body changes I’ve never found dramatically different no matter where we are. However, in Pakistan, politically, we wanted government approval and buy in, and to be able to use it in schools. It was conveyed that it was really important that we have stories or content from every single region. And so fortunately, UNICEF stepped up and helped support data collection in additional regions of the country. And some of the NGOs who work with this age group, we train them on how to collect stories so we could include stories from every single part of Pakistan. And so that was done a slightly different way. I don’t know that the stories were dramatically different from the different provinces or regions, but for political reasons that I very much respect that it was the way to go in developing that book.
Will Brehm 17:21
It’s really interesting to see how you sort of balance these competing needs of wanting these books to be very contextualized, while also wanting them to be, in a sense, quote, unquote, “average” to the typical student, without getting any subnational group upset within the country. And then also managing these politics within each of these ministries that you’re dealing with. It just must be so challenging whenever starting a new project in a different country.
Marni Sommer 17:59
Yes, I think it is, but I will say … so after we did the book in Tanzania, which I started doing that research in 2006, when the topic of puberty and menstruation was pretty novel still. And I was trying to tell people, “I want to do this book.” And, people were like, “Why are you doing a book? People don’t read in Tanzania. We don’t have a culture of reading.” So then I would spend time hanging out in libraries and talking to librarians and saying, “Do the kids read here? If we do this book, are they going to read?” And the librarians would say, “Look around you. Look at all the kids reading books. So go do your book.” Before we had a book to show people, and before puberty and menstruation started to become topics that people are talking about, it was a little bit harder. I would say now, thanks to so many charismatic individuals who are out there getting menstruation and puberty into social media and the news and pushing governments, it’s become a much more popular topic that people are starting to appreciate is relevant – is relevant for girls’ education, is relevant for their health and well being, and for boys’ well being, although I think we still have a ways to go on the boys’ front. And so now when we go to a country, and we show them the books we’ve done – we always bring copies now – we tell them how this is something that we’ve done elsewhere, but it’s very important that it be done just for that country and that’s what we want to do. I think in some ways it’s easier, because they’ve heard of it, they know what it is. I think what what we really want to do is not step on toes of other people working on that issue in a given country. So I would say it’s less challenging. Pakistan was a little challenging. Oh, the other thing I was going to say is, for all the dialogue around menstruation being really taboo, which it is – in no way would I deny it’s really taboo – it’s a lot easier for people, particularly males even in government, to grapple with than sex. And parents, it’s less scary to them. And so I think when you say you want to do this book, “We’re not going to talk about sex. We’re not going to talk about anything that will make their parents think that, you know, their kids are whatever.” It’s somehow less threatening, and I find that people just are, are really quite enthusiastic about it. One of the things that did surprise me, twice now, because we did boys’ books in Tanzania, and then again in Cambodia. And we elicited for the boys, three different types of stories. When we do a boys’ book, we ask them about peer pressures, we ask them about body change, like wet dreams, erections, and we ask them about experiences of violence. And in both countries, because we know there’s so much violence, gender based violence, in those societies when they get older. So in both countries, we had many, many stories about domestic violence. There are six stories in our boys’ books. And in both Cambodia and in Tanzania, we put a story, and an illustration, of domestic violence; a boy writing about how this was how happening at home, and it wasn’t okay, and this is what he thought a better resolution of violence [FA1] would be. And in both countries, the government supported those books, which really was eye opening to me, because I sort of thought it’s one of those things that I think frankly in many countries, including the US, people want to sweep under the rug and pretend it isn’t really happening. So I really applaud both those governments who I think recognize you want to start when they’re younger, and help them to be rethinking some of their behaviors that they may engage in later.
Will Brehm 21:29
After you publish a book and it gets implemented in some of these countries, do you ever do follow up research to see the impact that this new education is having in the countries?
Marni Sommer 22:02
Yes, and no. I just had a conversation with someone about it today. We’ve been such a tiny budget operation, and I’m in a job that’s much more focused on research grant money to not lose my job. And this hasn’t been a topic that was easy to get funding for evaluation. However, we did have generous support from the Lerner Center, which is a center within My School Year[FA2] to do an evaluation a few years ago. And we did an evaluation in Ethiopia of the girls’ puberty book and found, not surprisingly, that girls felt less worried, less scared, their knowledge levels went up. What didn’t change, which didn’t surprise us, was that it didn’t necessarily impact their school going. But if you went to those schools, they had really bad toilets; they weren’t clean, they didn’t have water, there weren’t enough, the girls didn’t feel safe in private using them. And so I think it would be a lot to expect to see that level of impact from a book if you’re not doing a more holistic intervention. What we do in every country, when we’re doing the field testing, is gather open ended questions. We have the kids answer open ended questions anonymously, in response to their thoughts in the book asking both, “What was good?” “What did you like?” “What did you not like?” “Who would you recommend read this in the country?” “What was interesting?”, and so on. And one of the things I found most interesting, and it came up right away in Tanzania, and I’ve since seen it come up in other countries, was when we asked, “Who else should read this book?”, my expectation was that the girls or would say, “Oh, other girls”, which across the board in every country, they say, “Every girl in the country should read this. Make sure this book gets out there.”, so that we get everywhere. But what those girls in Tanzania also wrote is, “My auntie, my mother, my teacher, my father should read this book.” And that just is so eye opening about what they may or may not, more like not, getting at home, and wanting to be understood by their parents and caregivers and their teachers. And so that was really quite remarkable. And the humorous part of some of the evaluations is sometimes we’ll have girls or boys say, “Boys should never read our book.” or whatever. Sometimes they say, “Oh boys should read this, so they’ll understand”, and then others who think, “Boys should never see this book.” And we get the same thing with the boys’ book, like, “Girls should not read this book”, and then other times they’ll say, “Everyone should read this book.”
Will Brehm 24:10
Do boys read the girls’ book, and vice versa?
Marni Sommer 24:13
That’s the idea – that they will exchange. Although in the boys’ book, we do have a page on menstruation and girls’ body change, and try to encourage boys to understand that, just as they are embarrassed about wet dreams and erections, girls are embarrassed about their periods, and they should all be supporting each other. But one of my favorite memories, when we first did the Tanzania book, and I went back for the testing of it and was very nervous. We tried to do a little pre- /post- evaluations years ago, and I was concerned. We gave the kids the book one night, and then they were supposed to come back the next day, and I was so worried some kid was going to get in trouble at home, or you know. None of that happened, and as soon as we finished the post- test, and the kids walked out with their books, because they let them keep them, the boys surrounded the girls and started yanking the books out of their hand and started reading them. And so, yes, they do want to exchange. And about a year and a half ago, I was in Tanzania, where this great little NGO called Childreach Tanzania in Moshi had distributed copies of both our girls’ and boys’ books, to their water sanitation clubs. And I went to visit the school, and this little boy who must have come up to my waist. I mean, I think he was like fifth grade or sixth grade, whatever. His teacher was telling me that they read the books, and he marched up to the female teacher afterwards and said, “Do you know, I can get a girl pregnant? Did you know that?” And everyone just started laughing, and we thought, “Well at least he knows that now; maybe he didn’t realize that before.” And she’s like, “Yes, and don’t go do it!” But then the other stuff, that’s fun – and I would like to be doing more tracking of where the books go and more rigorous follow up, and hopefully we’ll do that in the coming years – is, for example, I’ll get a random photo. Someone will say, “Oh, I was walking by the market in Ghana and I saw a girl reading the book”, or “I was driving home and I saw a bunch of girls standing together, and I pulled up and they were all reading these books.” There’s no way to capture that in a measurement sort of way, but just to know that they’re enjoying reading, that it’s building perhaps some kind of social support between kids, and that they’re having that private space to learn, which I always thought these books should kind of be like their version of Judy Blume, but just a different reading level and more illustration, to learn privately. And not to say you shouldn’t go to adults for questions, but to have that private space to learn about their bodies.
Will Brehm 26:36
Are these books ever supported by some of these larger organizations? Like, say, Gates Foundation, or even the World Bank? I mean, there seems to be, as you said, teaching about puberty has become less taboo than it was ten or 15 years ago. So, are these larger organizations addressing issues of puberty? And if so, are they learning from your experience?
Marni Sommer 27:06
I think some of them are definitely starting to address issues of puberty and menstruation. I don’t know how many of them have actually ordered our books. And probably partly that’s because I’m not running around countries reminding them that the books exist. But I do know, for example, and this is not really about the books per se, but the World Bank is doing more menstrual hygiene management projects in schools, refurbishing toilets, and trying to bring in some kind of information content. USAID hasn’t supported our books, but my guess is they’re supporting puberty projects in a way they weren’t before. I hear a lot of the big NGOs have ordered our books, DFID ordered a huge supply of our books many years ago in Ghana, so the UK Government. So I think that the donors are starting to appreciate that it is a critical age point. I think one of the issues, at least from the public health viewpoint, is that ten to 14 year olds generally aren’t dying of anything, and so when you have limited public health resources, you go to where the most sick and the dying, because you don’t have enough money to go around. And so this age group was overlooked. And I think what the global health community is starting to appreciate, is that early action and prevention and building girls’ confidence, helping boys understand violence, doing all these things at this window, before they engage in other behaviors, is conceivably a way to prevent some of the later problems. And the other thing, which I think less people have picked up on, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with Claudia Mitchell, who’s one of my favorite girls’ education people, at McGill University, about this, is the ways in which the books could be, we’re not there, because they don’t think they’ve been picked up by the education community this way, a form of literacy training. Kids love reading about body change, they love reading stories by older kids. And so I think if you’re really trying to get a kid to read and these books come in two languages, so they can for sure read their local language, and then practice the other language that, like English, or whatever it is they need to learn. It’s a wonderful way to encourage the literacy and the reading. So I think that’s an untapped way of using them from an education perspective. But I don’t know, just a thought.
Will Brehm 29:21
So I’d like to just sort of switch gears slightly, and ask a little bit about how you manage being an academic at Columbia University, as you said, and having to write grant proposals and teach courses and do research, while also wearing a second hat of being very involved in development – in creating these books, in an NGO. So how do you manage these, in a sense, different, yet related, identities?
Marni Sommer 29:55
Yes, a great question. I don’t sleep that much. But, more seriously, well one, I love academia but I’m a very practical person. And not that academics aren’t practical, but I think if I were not developing and partnering with people to do the books and seeing something pragmatic and tangible come out of some of the work I’m doing, I would be frustrated. And so really, maybe it’s even a little selfish that I feel this need to do the books at the same time. What has been nice is there is a way in which the two interrelate, in that when we do our participatory research with the youth (except for Kenya, which we felt we didn’t need to because there’s actually a fair amount of data on girls and menstruation in Kenya). But in most of the countries where we’ve done the participatory work with young people, there’s really no data or very little data on menstration and puberty or boys’ experiences, and so we’ve always got IRB approval, and because we collect more data that can ever go into the books. Because the books are really not that long, and they’re taken up with stories and myths, and so on. And I feel really a moral or an ethical responsibility to share all that we’ve learned from the young people beyond the books and really to try and help gain attention for this age group. So in general, we’ll publish an academic article from that data. It usually takes about another year to get that done, but our feeling is that that then builds some of the empirical evidence that perhaps would then motivate that country, if they’re not already motivated, to start thinking about that age group, to help people who are studying early adolescence to see the patterns of similarities and differences across countries, and start to build or help contribute to what is, I think, starting to be a growing evidence base. So those are sort of the ways. And then I do a fair amount of work with the UN, which I think has been wonderful. UNICEF, and now UNFPA and WFCC and some other organizations, in trying to promote the issue of menstruation and puberty. And generally, in most countries, they will order large copies. And so it sort of weaves into that policy agenda and program agenda along with the academic side. And then I’ve also over the years been lucky. Oftentimes, it’s a former student of mine who’s trained in qualitative methods, who wants more field experience and is willing to be very low budget for an extra six months after graduating, and partner with an organization or research group in that country. And so they gain additional experience, and then at the same time, we get great data. So they interweave.
Will Brehm 32:37
And not only do you wear two hats in terms of being an academic and say, a development practitioner, but you also are working in a sense between two fields – public health and education. And how do you manage navigating those very different disciplines?
Marni Sommer 32:58
Early on, and I lean on those who work in education pretty heavily. I mean, I obviously have my own education experience, but that is only a small contributor to understanding the world of global education and girls’ education. From the very beginning, when I started doing this research during my doctoral work in 2004, and found on the internet probably one of the only people who’d written anything about this, which was Jackie Kirk, who is this girls’ education scholar at McGill. But she also split her time half at McGill and half working with the International Rescue Committee on girls’ education projects. And we found each other on the web and developed sort of a wonderful girls’ education/public health writing partnership and friendship, and did that for a number of years until we unfortunately lost her. But that was really the seed that then got me to attend CIES for the first time; that was her suggestion. I met Claudia, her mentor at McGill, who’s now sort of a mentor to me. And I took a girls’ education course at Columbia to better ground myself, and met Fran Vavrus, who obviously does a lot of work in girls’ education globally, and so have just been fortunate over the years to accumulate those who understand that field in a way I don’t. Today, one of my favorite people to go to is Nora Fyles, the head of the UN girls education initiative. She’s a wonderful resource to me. So I think I’ve just been lucky to find so many girls’ education experts, or education experts, willing to collaborate or answer my endless questions or mentor me in different ways, which has been terrific.
Will Brehm 34:35
And I’m sure it goes both directions. I’m sure you have been a big help to educators to learn about public health issues.
Marni Sommer 34:42
Yes, I don’t know. But I think there’s so many intersections. I mean, you know, one of the fundamental things which used to be part of my early articulation to public health people about why I cared about girls’ education so much, which truthfully, came more from my own feeling that girls had a right to education and to not have barriers exists that were discriminatory. But the public health literature, which for decades has shown that girls’ education improves population health outcomes, better contraceptive use, better vaccine rates, fewer children, healthier children. So there’s so many population health benefits if we can keep girls in school. So I think there’s always been that nice marriage between the two fields that makes it really it makes it easier to bring them together.
Will Brehm 35:27
Well, Marni Sommer, thank you so much for joining FreshEd today. It was really a pleasure to talk.
Marni Sommer 35:31
It is a delight to be here. Thank you for doing this.