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Girls’ education is about more than getting girls into school. Girls’ education is also about ensuring that girls feel safe and learn while in school, complete all levels of education with the skills and competencies to secure jobs, make decisions about their own lives, and contribute to their communities and the world.
Girls’ education is a strategic development priority. Better educated women tend to be healthier than uneducated women, participate more in the formal labor market, earn more income, give birth to fewer children, marry at a later age, and provide better health care and education to their children. All these factors combined can help lift households out of poverty. Education empowers voice and agency.
In many countries today, primary and secondary school enrollment rates are the same for girls and boys. Two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary enrollment. Globally, however, 62 million girls between the ages of six and 15 are not in school, and girls continue to lag substantially behind boys in secondary completion rates.
Sixteen million girls, between the ages six and 11, will never start school compared to eight million boys. In South and West Asia, for example, 80 percent of out-of-school girls will never start compared to 16 percent of out-of-school boys. This means that approximately four million girls across the region will remain excluded from education.
Poverty remains the most important factor for determining whether a girl will access an education. Recent research looking at data from 24 low-income countries show that, on average, only 34 percent of girls in the poorest-quintile households in these countries complete primary school, compared with 72 percent of girls in the richest-quintile households, a difference of 38 percentage points due to income poverty alone. Studies consistently reinforce that girls who face multiple sources of disadvantage such as income level, location, disability and/or ethno-linguistic background are farthest behind.
Violence also negatively impacts access to education and a safe environment for learning. For example, in Afghanistan, studies have shown that parents are afraid to send their daughters to school because of the violence directed against girls.
Girls worldwide overcome barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices, substandard service delivery, poor infrastructure and fragility. Over the years, governments, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, bilateral and multilateral donors, and girls and women as agents of change and their own empowerment, have advanced multi-sectoral approaches to overcome these challenges including, though not limited to:
- Providing scholarships or conditional cash transfers;
- Reducing distance to school;
- Launching media campaigns and awareness building initiatives;
- Targeting boys and men to be a part of discussions about cultural and societal practices;
- Ensuring gender-sensitive curriculum and pedagogies;
- Hiring qualified female teachers;
- Building safe and inclusive learning environments for girls and young women; and
- Ending child marriage and addressing violence against girls and women.