Educating Girls: The Right Thing to Do, and The Smart Thing

This post originally appeared on Girls’ Globe website here. Reposted with permission.

By Emma Saloranta, Girls’ Globe

October 11th was declared the International Day of the Girl Child in December 2011 through UN General Assembly Resolution 66/170. The first celebration of the Day took place last year under the theme of child marriage. This year, for the second Day of the Girl, the focus is on “Innovating for Girls’ Education”.

There has been notable progress in the area of girls’ education since 2000 when the Millennium Development Goals were launched. Still, much needs to be accomplished before girls and women around the world can enjoy equal access to, and quality of, education at primary, secondary and higher levels with boys and men. In many countries, girls still complete primary education at much lower rates than boys, and gender, along with poverty and place of residence, is a key factor in keeping kids out of school. Millions of girls are unable to complete basic levels of education because of multiple barriers related to poverty, safety, institutional and structural problems and culture – all of which disproportionately affect girls.

There is overwhelming evidence that girls’ education is one of the most powerful tools not only for their empowerment, but for poverty reduction and development of entire communities and nations. There truly is a “trickle down” effect for girls’ education – it results in reductions in maternal and child mortality, as educated girls are better equipped to take care of their health and seek medical care during pregnancy and childbirth than girls with little or no education. Girls’ education also leads to lower rates of child marriage, early births and decreased fertility, narrows pay gaps between men and women, and improves women’s ability to find meaningful employment.

Despite all the facts about the vast benefits of educating girls and young women, proving that girls’ education it is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do, millions of girls around the world still are not in school. They either lack access to education entirely, are forced to drop out of school early, or are discriminated against within the school system; all of which negatively impact their learning outcomes and the skills and knowledge they gain in school. The theme for this year’s Day of the Girl – Innovating for Girls’ Education – not only aims to bring attention to new, innovative and creative approaches to improving access to and quality of education for girls, but is also a reminder of the fact that while a lot of progress has been made, girls’ education agenda is far from finished. Ensuring that girls have access to primary education is important, but only the first step. Access to primary level education does not translate to actual positive change for girls and women unless girls stay in school, receive good quality and relevant education, complete primary education at the same rate with boys, and then have the ability to continue to secondary education. Plan International has stated that girls need a minimum of 9 years of good quality, relevant education for it to truly translate into increased levels of empowerment, decision making ability, health and security – and as the world is coming together to forge the new Post-2015 Global Development Agenda, it is crucial to ensure that girls’ education is strongly represented in the new goals, targets and indicators that are being formulated. Recognizing and celebrating success is important – but success should not translate to complacency or the false belief that girls’ education is a completed agenda.