Ensuring education in emergencies: protecting girls’ right to learn

A Women Deliver session co-organized by GPE and Plan International

Girls waving from the entrance of their school in Chad. Credit: Educate a Child

“Girls cannot go to school if they are afraid. Girls shouldn’t be afraid to go to school.”

Who could disagree with Rose?

A young education advocate from the Philippines who, visibly nervous to be sharing the stage at Women Deliver with education leaders, emphasized the importance of ensuring education for girls—and boys—in countries experiencing emergencies and protracted crises.

According to ODI an estimated 75 million children are in the most desperate need of education support. Girls are particularly disadvantaged, being almost 2.5 times more likely to be out of school if they live in conflict-affected countries.

With the average length of conflict being 12 years, and the average length of displacement 17 years, entire childhoods are at risk of being lost. As Julia Gillard said in another Women Deliver session:

“Children are children just once. We cannot leave them stranded without an education.”

Co-organized by GPE and Plan International, “Ensuring Education in Emergencies: Protecting Girls’ Right to Learn” covered the diverse challenges facing girls in fragile and conflict settings, for example the increase in child marriage due to the fact that parents think that their daughter will be safer with a man to increasing attacks on schools during conflicts to the lack of data on girls, because they are often not counted.

The session brought together Rose, Julia Gillard, Maker Mwangu Famba (Minister of Education, Democratic Republic of Congo), Mabel Van Orange (Girls Not Brides), Geeta Rao Gupta (UNICEF), Jessica Hjarrand (INEE), and Tanya Barron (Plan UK).

Snap of the fingers

Ensuring education in emergencies: protecting girls’ right to learn session

After discussing, not only the challenges in emergencies, but also the benefits of education, Julia Gillard, who was moderating the event, asked an interesting question: “If you could solve part of this problem with a snap of the fingers, what would you do? What would have the greatest impact?”

Here’s how they answered:

Tanya Barron – Chief executive, Plan UK

“Gender-aware, safe, girl-friendly schools with opportunities for 2nd chance education for girls who come back to school after a disruption, such as early pregnancy.”

Geeta Rao Gupta – Deputy executive director, UNICEF

“Adequate and predictable funding for education in emergencies and better coordination among governments and international partners to ensure sustainable planning.”

Mabel Van Orange – Founder and Chair, Girls not Brides

“We need to recognize that child marriage is a critical issue in emergencies and protracted crises, and consider this fact when planning any humanitarian responses. Parents have to stop thinking that getting rid of their girls is the best way for them to survive”

Maker Mwangu Famba – Minister of Education, Democratic Republic of Congo

“Peace education. Schools, children, and teachers must be protected and we need to supply school kits to displaced children.”

Jessica Hjarrand – Advocacy coordinator, INEE

“Better cooperation between actors and sectors, and a shift in the conversation to highlight the costs of not investing in education in emergencies”

Rose – Youth advocate, Philippines

“Governments and leaders need to be held accountable and prioritize education in emergencies and crises”

From hope to action

Of course, it will never be as easy as snapping our fingers. However, we know have an opportunity to get to work and address the issues raised by the panelists. Education Cannot Wait, a platform and fund to be launched at the World Humanitarian Summit next week in Istanbul, will change the way education in emergencies is addressed and provide funding, better coordination and planning.

As Minister Famba mentioned several times in the course of the session, education is not just essential to the development of nations, it builds sustainable peace. 

“Ignorance is our Ebola,” he said, stressing that the lack of education is a crisis in itself and we must mobilize around it.

To ensure Education Cannot Wait is impactful and effective, civil society and citizens have to drum up support for education in emergencies, several other panelists reminded the captivated audience.

As Geeta Rao Gupta closed the session, she told the audience: “Yes, this is complicated and complex. But it can be done!” We would add, it must.


The Global Partnership for Education Secretariat is headquartered in Washington DC and has approximately 100 staff. The Secretariat provides administrative and operational support to all its partners including...

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