Girls Face An Education Crisis Around The World: We Must Act Now
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted all our lives with education systems all over the world severely impacted, but for women and girls so much more is at stake. At the height of school closures, 1.6 billion children and young people were out of education around the world with girls disproportionately affected. The pandemic compounds and exacerbates the many obstacles they already face to getting a quality education like poverty, gender-based violence, FGM, child marriage, and a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services.
By Ambassador Melanie Robinson
Prior to the pandemic, girls were already facing an education crisis. In sub-Saharan Africa, 33.3 million girls of primary and lower secondary school age were out of school. The number rises to 52.2 million when considering girls of upper secondary school age. In South Asia, most of the 20.6 million children at lower secondary level who were out of school were adolescent girls. In the Middle East and North Africa region, one in every five children were out of school with adolescent girls one and half times more likely to be out of school at the lower secondary level. Across Europe and America, 0.4 million girls were out of school.
There is now a real risk of a lost generation of girls, as many as 16 million disadvantaged children may not return to school at all with secondary age girls most at risk of staying home or marrying early because their families have fallen into poverty. This is a global crisis. We must act as a global community to tackle it.
That is why the UK, Kenya, and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) are co-hosting the Global Education Summit at the end of this month in London, bringing world leaders together to invest in education and improve access for girls. The aim is to set GPE on a path to raising $5 billion over the next five years to transform education in the world’s most vulnerable countries. This will give 175 million more children the chance to learn. That is not only the lives of tens of millions of individuals improved. That is also millions of communities transformed for the better.
Investing in girls’ education is a game-changer for everyone. It boosts incomes and develops economies. With just one additional school year, a woman’s earnings can increase by a fifth. $28 trillion could be added to global GDP if women had the same role in the labour market as men. Investing in girls’ education also creates healthier and safer societies. A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live beyond the age of 5 years, twice as likely to attend school themselves – and 50% more likely to be immunised. If every girl went to secondary school, infant mortality could be cut in half, saving three million lives every year.
If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is how interconnected we all are. Girls’ education is no different. By giving all girls the chance to access 12 years of quality education, we will have a fighting chance to lift people out of poverty, grow economies, save lives, and build back better from Covid-19.
The funding we raise from the Global Education Summit will go to GPE, the largest partnership and fund dedicated to transforming education in lower-income countries. This will mean practical support for education in 90 countries and territories around the world. The UK has committed £430 million of new UK aid for GPE which will go towards helping the 1.1 billion children across these countries over the next five years. Since its creation in 2002, GPE has already contributed to getting 160 million more children into school and to the doubling of girls’ enrolment in the countries they work in.
But we are not done yet. The pandemic risks undoing much of the great progress we have made so far. Now is the time for the global community to step up, fund education and improve access for girls. If we want to change the world for the better, girls’ education is a good place to start.