As summer comes to an end and we ready our kids to return to school, there are many children missing out on education. In many low-income countries, children — especially girls — will not be returning to school due to inadequate education systems, discrimination, early and forced marriage, or pregnancy as a result of transactional sex or gender-based violence. And when this happens, most girls are unable to return to school. Their education comes to an abrupt end, and their futures are forever changed.
The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted students worldwide, and school closures continue to disrupt the education of more than 616 million students. Additional crises, such as those in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Yemen have only increased these gaps in education, with girls, low-income children, and children with disabilities facing the greatest barriers to education. When kids are out of school, not only do they fall behind on education, they miss essential meals as many rely on at least one regular daily meal while attending school.
According to the World Bank, “individuals as well as countries benefit from girls being educated. Better-educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes.” A recent World Bank study estimates that the “limited educational opportunities for girls, and barriers to completing 12 years of education, cost countries between US$15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.”
Two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary school enrollment. In low-income countries, many in Sub-Saharan Africa, secondary school completion rates for girls continue to lag, with only 36% of girls completing lower secondary school compared to 44% of boys. By the time we reach upper secondary school, completion rates have dropped further, with the rate 26% for young men and 21% for young women.
We can make a connection between girls’ education and reducing the adverse effects of climate change. According to Drawdown.org, in their recent report “Drawdown Lift”, March 2022 on Climate-Poverty connections: “Education is a fundamental human right for both girls and boys. Moreover, girls’ education plays an important role in building adaptive capacity and reducing vulnerability to climate-related extreme events. Educated women can better protect themselves and their families from environmental shocks and are able to participate more fully in decision-making. Today, 129 million girls are out of school worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a substantive disruption in education, and projections suggest that as many as 11 million girls might not return to school. This deprivation can hinder the ability to build long-term community resilience to climate change, enhance health, improve gender equality and social equity, eradicate poverty, and foster peace and justice.”
Education, in particular for girls and women, opens so many doors. It is connected to our health, poverty, climate change, and our general resilience.
To begin our fall advocacy, we are working to secure the reauthorization of The READ Act. Earlier this year we acted on funding global education through the appropriations process; now, we are addressing how good policy will make the most of those funds. The READ ACT ensures USAID coordinates with low-income partner countries to reach the most marginalized, particularly girls, with quality education and to reduce the hurdles girls face to stay in school.
You can influence this process by writing to your Senators, encouraging them to support this bill. This can be done quickly and easily online at the RESULTS website here. Try to personalize your message—-why is girls’ education important to you? Have you been touched by the success of one of our grantees? How has education enhanced your life? And then consider increasing the impact by sharing this action with friends and fellow Together Women Rise members. You could even consider doing this together as a group activity at your next Rise meeting. When our legislators hear from multiple constituents, you can rest assured you will get their attention.
Please join us for our next Advocacy group webinar on September 20th at 8:30 PM ET. We have created a safe non-partisan space, where you can learn about and practice the tools of advocacy and the rewards of building relationships with your legislators.