Access to education is not just a fundamental human right. It is critical in helping us overcome global challenges.
Yet in large parts of the world, girls and women still face discrimination and prejudice in accessing education at every level.
Despite compelling evidence that investment in girls’ education is the best investment any society can make, they make up 70 per cent of older children who miss out on secondary school.
This discrimination, which often has its roots in tradition and the male interpretation of faith, damages almost every aspect of women’s lives – and the strength and prosperity of their society.
It is hard to over-estimate the benefits that educating girls brings. Girls who have been to school are healthier, marry later and have fewer and healthier children. In Mozambique, around 60 per cent of women without education marry before they reach 18, compared to just one in ten who attended school.
Education gives girls more opportunities and greater influence in their communities in later life. Women with education are more likely to work outside the home or family farm, and to earn more. An extra year of primary school alone boosts a woman’s wage by between 10 and 20 per cent.
There is a strong link between societies which have done most to tackle inequality in education and increased prosperity. Regions which have invested long-term in girls’ education such as South-East Asia and Latin America have shown higher levels of economic development.
Yet a powerful combination of practices based on tradition and religion, poverty and lack of national resources denies girls in many countries the chance of education and the opportunities it brings to them and their societies. The reasons are complex. But at their root too often is the simple idea that girls and women are somehow inferior to their male counterparts.
Male religious leaders can warn against educating girls. Fathers may have low ambitions for their daughters or may fear sending them to school in case it encourages their independence. Girls can be forced to stay at home to help in the home or to marry early. Families with little money are more likely to spend it on sending sons to schools. There can also be practical reasons. A lack of separate toilets can lead to older girls leaving school.