As members of the Asian community, more Japanese corporations should help support fledgling Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, one of the keys to the continent’s continued growth, according to a board member of the university’s support foundation.

“Most donations come from Europe and the United States, and most of the assistance from Japan is from individuals. We hope Japanese companies will support AUW,” Kathy Matsui, managing director of Goldman Sachs Japan Co. and a board member of AUW Support Foundation, said at a news conference Thursday in Tokyo.

Asian University for Women, an internationally supported institution that offers liberal arts and science curricula in English, opened last year in Chittagon, southeastern Bangladesh. Students at AUW are young women from across South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East with limited opportunities to receive a higher education. All receive scholarships.

AUW is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates, Goldman Sachs and Rockefeller foundations, among numerous others. Most of the funds, however, come from outside Asia, said Matsui.

According to a study by Goldman Sachs, if the gender gap in education is narrowed in South Asia, per capita income in the area would increase 10 percent to 15 percent in 20 years.

AUW Support Foundation aims to collect ¥150 million by the end of this year in Japan to recruit highly qualified professors and to give outstanding educational opportunities to young women like Azmina Karim, a 19-year-old AUW student from Bangladesh who came to Tokyo to share her experience.

“Being an AUW student, I realized I can change my life,” Karim, who is the first in her family to attend a university, told the news conference. “My life was about studying, being a part of my family, and being a responsible daughter before. But I learned life is much bigger than that.”

Karim said there are two kinds of education: one that helps you get a job and one that enlightens you.

AUW is the latter, she said.

Through AUW, “I realized what my social role is,” she said, adding she hopes to gain knowledge overseas about autism and go back to her country to work with autistic kids in the future.

Receiving a higher education is a luxury for most young women in South Asia and the Middle East. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, one of the guest speakers and a documentary film director from Pakistan, said only 1 percent of the children in Pakistan, mostly from the upper and middle classes, are privileged enough to enroll in a British-style education system.

Obaid-Chinoy attended a liberal arts college in the U.S., but her mother did not go to university, she said. “We need to make sure our sisters will have the same opportunity,” she added.

“Investing in women’s education is the key to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty,” Matsui said. She argued that investment in women’s education results in a high return to society because when educated women become mothers, they will also educate their children.

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