Education is hereditary: the way to guarantee well-schooled children is to educate their mothers. This is the finding of State of the World's Children, a report published by Unicef, the United Nations children's fund, to mark its 60th anniversary.
The charity conducted a survey of developed and developing countries around the world and concluded that children's welfare is highly dependent on the educational and employment opportunities offered to their mothers. "Gender equality produces a double dividend: it benefits both women and children,"
its report stated. "Healthy, educated and empowered women have healthy, educated and confident daughters and sons."
The Unicef figures reveal that, in a third of developing countries, it is the men who usually make household decisions. Only women with higher levels of education are likely to play a role in family decision-making.
But evidence shows that the amount of influence women wield over household decisions can affect the education of their children. Women tend to place higher value on children's welfare than men, and use what money and influence they have to meet the needs of their children.
The greater the woman's role in the household, the more likely she is to ensure that her children, and particularly her daughters, will be educated.
Children with uneducated mothers are more than twice as likely to be out of school than those whose mothers received a primary education.
A woman's level of education also affects the type of work she is able to undertake. And the quality of her employment can influence her children's schooling. Across the world, women's wages are about 20 per cent lower than men's. Women are also more likely to undertake work with little financial security and few social benefits. And, in many countries, childcare costs remain prohibitive. So poorly paid women often rely on older daughters to look after their offspring during the working day. As a result, these childminders are unable to attend school.
The result is a vicious circle of uneducated women in underpaid employment.
The report says: "The most important strategies for ensuring that girls and boys will have equal-income opportunities as adults is to give them equal access to education."
Evidence from developed and developing countries also suggests that female politicians are more likely to be effective advocates for children's rights and education. But women account for only 17 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide. And only 14 per cent of ministers and 6 per cent of heads of government are women.
Female influence is particularly keenly felt in local government, where women can control distribution of community resources, and make arrangements for centralised childcare. This, in turn, affects the levels of education that girls are able to achieve.
The report concludes: "Involving women in the early stages of policy formulation helps ensure that programmes are designed with the needs of women and children in mind.
Development agencies have long emphasised the importance of educating and empowering women. In September 2000, the United Nations named gender equality as one of its eight millennium development goals for 2015.
Knock-on effect More than 15 million children of primary school age worldwide do not attend school.
For every 100 boys not in primary school, there are 115 girls who also miss out.
In developing countries, almost one in every five girls will not complete her primary education.
In developing countries, only 43 per cent of girls go to secondary school.
Educated women are less likely to die in childbirth and more likely to send their children to school.
High illiteracy rates among women prevent them knowing how to protect themselves from HIV infection.
In parts of Africa and the Caribbean, women between the ages of 15 and 24 are six times more likely to be infected with HIV than young men the same age.