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Investing In Our Future

A quality education provides a critical foundation for personal development as individuals and global citizens. Sadly, for a significant portion of the population these fundamental experiences are at risk or wholly missing.

Article by Natalie Gonnella-Platts Vivian Onano October 11, 2017 //   6 minute read
A girl at Therisanyo Primary in Gaborone, Botswana. Photo credit: Paul Morse

A quality education provides a critical foundation for personal development as individuals and global citizens. Enabling young people to find their voice, self-confidence, and sense of community, education creates a ripple effect that improves well-being far beyond a single person. 

Sadly, for a significant portion of the population these fundamental experiences are at risk or wholly missing. 

Every day, 130 million girls between the ages six and 17 are denied the opportunity to learn and grow.  They are deprived of the chance to explore their interests, to build empathy, resiliency, and knowledge, and most importantly, to define their future for themselves and their families. 

Nine of the ten “toughest places” for girls to attend school are in sub-Saharan Africa.  As Mrs. Bush highlighted for the One Campaign’s #GirlsCount gallery, in Africa alone, 51,741,420 children are unable to read, half of which are girls.

International Day of the Girl (October 11) celebrates the power of the 1.1 billion girls around the world. The largest number in human history, they comprise a critical force for a more prosperous and sustainable world. But their potential is often threatened by poverty, discrimination, and violence.    

Lack of clean water and adequate sanitation and hygiene management impede attendance.  Poor health and nutrition, and teacher shortages inhibit the ability to learn.  Abuse and violence disrupt normalcy and access to schools.  And child marriage and unjust gender norms often prohibit girls from pursuing their educations in their entirety. 

A society cannot thrive if half of the population is left behind or marginalized. As the Honorable Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Partnership for Education emphasized “the ‘Holy Grail’ of development now is girls’ education because we know what great spin off advantages that has for health, peace and prosperity for the next generations.”

Worldwide, if girls had greater access to quality secondary education, poverty levels could be reduced by more than half. Women who were educated end up significantly investing back into their families. According to the World Bank, the return on every year of secondary education for a girl correlates with an 18 percent average increase in wages later in life. For low and middle income countries failing to offer gender equality in secondary education, they are missing out on an estimated $92 billion worth of growth. 

In situations of instability and armed conflict, women and girls disproportionally suffer as inequalities and abuse are magnified.  However, when all children have access to quality schooling, especially at the secondary level, countries can inhibit conflict and extremism. In the face of adversity, education is a springboard to peace and inclusion.  

Better schooling also enables better health. Through access to quality education, girls and young women are more equipped to make informed decisions about their personal well-being.  They are less likely to marry early and have greater influence over their reproductive choices and the health of their future children. For example, despite a decrease in global transmission rates, young women and adolescent girls remain at a higher risk of HIV infection than their male counterparts.  But, as seen in a recent study in Botswana, the influence of quality secondary schooling can aid the decrease of transmission. And as Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon found, schooling has also ensured an increase in accessibility to the HPV vaccine, saving lives from future instances of cervical cancer, the leading cause of cancer related death in Sub-Saharan African alone.

Investments in girls’ education overwhelmingly influence outcomes for the better.  From the community to the country level, when a girl is educated everyone benefits.

As Nobel Laureate and UN Messenger of Peace Malala Yousafzai said at this year’s United Nations General Assembly: “We have big goals, but we will not reach any of them unless we educate girls. If we want to grow economies, improve the air we breathe, promote peace and advance public health, we must invest in girls." 

As we see in our own work, change happens when we break down silos and work together. Public- private partnerships and collaborative efforts like the Global Partnership for Education, One Campaign, and Girl Rising, aid the growth of much-needed advocacy and investment, breaking down barriers to ensure children and young people everywhere have access to quality schooling. 

Gender equality touches every one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. From government to civil society, we all have a stake in ensuring a more prosperous future. And girls’ education is a critical force for progress.  

Natalie Gonnella-Platts is Deputy Director of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute

Vivian Onano is a Global Youth Advocate.