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Ann Cotton: Ahimsa Award Recognizes Girls’ Education Imperative

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Ann Cotton, Founder and President of Camfed, which for over 20 years has supported girls in sub-Saharan Africa through school and into independence, today received the Ahimsa Award at the House of Commons in London.

The award celebrates compassion and non-violence in the spirit of Jain philosophy, which was followed by Mahatma Gandhi. In her acceptance speech, Ann Cotton described the extraordinary returns of investing in girls’ education.

“I am truly honored to receive this award,” said Ann Cotton. “24 years ago, my journey started with the understanding that poor parents share the universal desire for education for their children. No family in our experience has ever turned down educational support for their daughter. And so Camfed has worked for more than two decades in partnership with poor families, transforming this desire for girls’ education into reality, and showing the measurable benefits of girls’ education for all of us.”

The Ahimsa Award is an award presented annually at the House of Commons in London by the Institute of Jainology. It is awarded to individuals that personify the main Jain tenet of ‘Ahimsa’ (compassion and non-violence) in their work or daily life. “We are delighted that Ann Cotton OBE has accepted the 2015 Ahimsa Award for her work in educating young women in Africa. She adds to the prestigious list of previous winners, which includes HH The Dalai Lama and HRH The Prince of Wales,” said Nemu Chandaria, OBE, Chairman of the Institute of Jainology.

Girls’ education is a human right and delivers a safer world for all of us

In her acceptance speech, Ann described her journey of discovery of the true barriers to girls’ education, and how, learning from communities, Camfed built a unique model, which delivers justice for girls and leadership pathways for young women. “Girls’ education is a human right. And along with its fundamental justice it promises so much for the individual, for her family, for society, for all of us,” said Ann, highlighting three of the many benefits of girls’ education:

Girls’ education leads to smaller families through reducing population growth not by coercion, but through education. Uneducated women in sub-Saharan Africa have 6.7 births on average, while the number falls to 3.9 for women with secondary education. [1]

Girls’ education reduces child marriage and child pregnancy. The United Nations Population Fund tells us that ‘in sub-Saharan Africa, 66 percent of women with no education became child brides, versus 13 percent of those with secondary or higher education—a rate over five times higher. [2]

Girls’ education also helps to address the global issue of climate change by reducing the harm to families from natural disasters and extreme weather. Quoting a rigorous study, the Brookings Institution recently confirmed that “female education has emerged as ‘the single most important social and economic factor associated with a reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters.’” [3]

Compassion and kindness can and must be scaled to create a world of justice

“The world has proved enough times that it can scale cruelty and violence. Compassion and kindness can and must be scaled to create a world of justice for children,” said Ann.

Camfed’s programs have already benefitted more than 3.5 million students in the poorest districts of Zimbabwe, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi. Camfed’s alumnae in the 33,111-strong CAMA network are now at the forefront of the movement to get this generation of girls into school, and help them succeed and lead, forging ahead to create better nations, and a more sustainable life on this fragile planet.

“Educating girls is the best investment we can make to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. I am delighted that the Institute of Jainology recognizes and supports this imperative,” Ann concluded.


[1] Winthrop, Rebecca and Sperling, Gene. 2015. What Works in Girls’ Education. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

[2] UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). 2012. Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage. New York: UNFPA.

[3] Winthrop and Sperling. 2015.

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