Transforming Girls’ Education, Changing The World By Helen Grant and Yasmine Sherif
As we approach this year’s Transforming Education Summit, global leaders can and must prioritize expertise and mobilize political will to support efforts to ensure inclusive and quality education for all, especially girls. This is at the heart of Sustainable Development Goal 4 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the commitments made in the Charlevoix Declaration and the G7 Declaration on Girls’ Education.
Despite the progress made in recent decades, gender inequality between girls and boys, in all their diversity, is deepening. According to a recent United Nations report, the interlinked crises: of armed conflicts, climate change and COVID-19 are putting the 2030 Agenda in “grave danger, along with humanity’s very own survival.” These multiplying challenges are “creating spin-off impacts on food and nutrition, health, education, the environment, and peace and security, and affecting all the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the global learning crisis. Approximately 147 million children missed over half of in-person learning in 2020 and 2021 and it is estimated that 50% of refugee girls in secondary school may not return, when their classrooms reopen after COVID-19, whilst 222 million girls were not able to be reached by remote learning during the pandemic.
Shocking new estimates published by Education Cannot Wait (ECW) indicate that 222 million school-aged children caught in crises globally are in urgent need of access to a quality education. These include 78.2 million who are out of school – a majority (54%) of whom are girls – and 119.6 million who are in school but not achieving minimum competencies in mathematics or reading.
Girls impacted by the horrors of war and displacement in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen face even greater risks, such as gender-based violence, early child-marriage and unwanted pregnancies.
The banning of secondary girls’ education in Afghanistan is especially intolerable. In the past year, girls were estimated to be more than twice as likely to be out of school, and nearly twice as likely to be going to bed hungry compared to boys.
This is the global picture as we approach, Transforming Education Summit, and why it is such a critical moment for girls education around the world.
ECW’s Case for Investment
ECW’s new Case for Investment is our case for humanity. It speaks up for girls’ rights to a 12-year education everywhere, not least in contexts of humanitarian crisis. It is our collective responsibility to deliver on the promise of 222 Million Dreams and the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to ECW’s recent Annual Results Report, conflict, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters and the compounding effect of the COVID-19 pandemic fueled increased education in emergencies needs with funding appeals reaching US$2.9 billion in 2021, compared with US$1.4 billion in 2020. While 2021 saw a record-high US$645 million in education appeal funding – the overall funding gap spiked by 17%, from 60% in 2020 to 77% in 2021.
Financing for education has not aligned with the deepening and growing needs. The gap has only widened.
It is only by closing this gap that we protect girls, support gender equality and empower the next generation of female leaders, teachers, lawyers, doctors and nurses.
Investing in 50% of a country’s population, its girls, is the best investment we can make. For every dollar invested in girls’ education, we see $2.80 in return. And a World Bank study estimates that the “limited educational opportunities for girls, and barriers to completing 12 years of education, cost countries between $15 and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.”
The United Kingdom is a leading donor to Education Cannot Wait, and its support has allowed Education Cannot Wait and its strategic partners to have reached close to 7 million children and adolescents since 2016. In 2021 alone, the Fund reached 3.7 million children across 32 countries and an additional 11.8 million through COVID-19 interventions. Of all children reached by ECW’s investments to date, over 48% are girls, and 92% of programmes demonstrated an improvement in gender parity.
The Transforming Education Summit, and this year’s UN General Assembly will be a critical moment to address these challenges, and to assess the efficiency, effectiveness, scalability, sustainability and overall return-on-investment of ongoing and new initiatives and works streams as we look to increase girls access to quality education.
Delivering on Our Promise
Hosted by Switzerland and Education Cannot Wait – and co-convened by Germany, Niger, Norway and South Sudan – ECW’s 2023 High-Level Financing Conference offers an opportunity for leaders to turn these commitments into action.
We urge people everywhere to show their support for #222MillionDreams and #Everygirleverywhere with posts on social, individual donations, letters to your elected officials and calls to actions through the broad group of strategic partners.
Now is our chance to deliver on our promise of universal, equitable education. Now is our chance to transform girls’ education to transform the world. Now is our chance to deliver with humanity and for humanity.
About the Authors
Helen Grant is a Member of UK Parliament and the United Kingdom’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education, leading the UK’s efforts internationally to ensure all girls get 12 years of quality education. Prior to politics, Helen was a children and family lawyer for 23 years.
Yasmine Sherif is the Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. A lawyer specialized in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law (LL.M), she has over 30 years of experience with the United Nations and international NGOs.