What is the single most important thing that can be done to improve the world? Well, the newly appointed Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor says that although this question was very likely to bring out the bureaucrat in the “most direct of communicators”, he had decided to cast caution to the winds and answer this impossible question.

“If I had to pick the one thing we must do above all else, I now offer a two-word mantra, a mantra that would have found instant resonance with the eminent jurist whose memory we honour today -- educate girls,” he said, while delivering the 18{+t}{+h}Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on “Educating Women -- The Quest for Equality” here on Wednesday.

Dr. Tharoor first spoke about the general benefits of educating girls. “Scholarly studies and research projects have established what common sense might already have told us: that if you educate a boy, you educate a person, but if you educate a girl, you educate a family and benefit an entire community. The evidence is striking. Increased schooling of mothers has a measureable impact on the health of their children, on the future schooling of the child, and on the child's adult productivity. The children of educated mothers consistently out-perform children with educated fathers and illiterate mothers. Given that they spend most of their time with their mothers, this is hardly surprising.”

Then he spoke about the improved health of a society with educated women. “A girl who has had more than six years of education is better equipped to seek and use medical and health care advice, to immunise her children, to be aware of sanitary practices from boiling water to the importance of washing hands. A World Bank project in Africa established that the children of women with just five years of school had a 40 per cent better survival rate than the children of women who had less than five years in class. A Yale University study showed that the heights and weights for newborn children of women with a basic education were consistently higher than those of babies born to uneducated women. A UNESCO project demonstrated that giving women just a primary school education decreases child mortality by five per cent to 10 per cent,” he said, adding that reproduction could also be brought under control if more women were educated.

Even the economy of a nation could be vastly improved with an educated woman. “The more girls go to secondary school, the World Bank adds, the higher the country's per capita income growth. And when girls work in the fields, as so many have to do across the developing world, their schooling translates directly to increased agricultural productivity. One marvellous thing about women is that they like to learn from other women, so the success of educated women is usually quickly emulated by their uneducated sisters. And women spend increased income on their families, which men do not necessarily do (rural toddy shops in India, after all, thrive on the self-indulgent spending habits of men). In many studies, the education of girls has been shown to lead to more productive farming and in turn to a decline in malnutrition. Educate a girl, and you benefit a community.”

He also laid out the various schemes in place for education of women across the country and ended with these words: “Let us invest in women and girls.”

Also present at the lecture was Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir who highlighted the plight of women in rural India and spoke at length of his experiences with legal aid camps across the country. He also said that a nation that could not look after its women could never be successful or developed. Delhi High Court Chief Justice Darmar Murugesan and other legal luminaries were also present.

The Justice Sunanda Bhandare memorial lecture instituted in memory of the eminent High Court Judge, who passed away in 1994, has seen several stalwarts deliver lectures on women’s issues, rights and empowerment.

Economist Amartya Sen, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Professor M.S. Swaminathan, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam are in this illustrious list.