PITTSFIELD -- Lynn Pasquerella began working at an early age as a welder in a Connecticut light switch factory.

She continued, 35 hours a week, throughout her years at Mount Holyoke College. Graduating there in 1980, she then continued her education, studying philosophy at Brown University.

Now president of Mount Holyoke College, Pasquerella fought for each of her accomplishments, often against the implicit sexism of peers and potential employers.

But those struggles pale to the experiences of women in other nations across the globe, 66 million of whom are denied a basic education.

"When girls and women are educated, everyone thrives -- families as well as nations," Pasquerella said this week at a lecture at Miss Hall's School. "Economic prosperity as well as personal well-being is enhanced."

More than 200 young women, all students, crowded into the school's arts center for the first of the Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series in 2013-14.

Pasquerella, who focused her talk on those living in the Third World, said girls comprise nearly 60 percent of the world's population of children who are not in school.

"We must look at the importance of educating girls not solely as a gender issue, but also as a development issue," she said. Research shows that "investing in girls and their education is the surest way to spur international development."

Pasquerella said the World Economic Forum's annual global gender gap index for 136 countries, 93 percent of the world's population was just released and its chilling conclusion? No country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The U.S. ranked 23rd. Iceland, Finland, Norway, the Philippines and Ireland topped the list, and at the bottom of the list was Chad, Pakistan and Yemen.

"Women's integration in the workforce is the next frontier of change," Pasquerella said. "Education is the accelerator."

Pasquerella thought the potential of educating the women who presently don't have access "nothing short of an undiscovered continent."

Students wanted to know what they can do. Her response?

Fight for social and economic justice, support women's schools and colleges, write op-eds, donate time and money, choose a mentor or role model, hold "assertive, resilient and forward-thinking views" without compromise.

The speaker series is financially supported by various area churches, cultural and arts groups and individual donors. All events are free. Four similar gatherings are planned.

Organizer Ricky Bernstein said the series will conclude March 9 at Bard College at Simon's Rock with a collaboration with the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers for a compelling International Women's Day program.