It’s time to make education work for every girl

International Women’s Day marks the launch of ONE’s Poverty is Sexist Report

An Arabic class in Sudan. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Rumana is a 26-year-old woman from Sudan. She just joined seventh grade. As a child, Rumana didn’t go to school and so she didn’t learn to read or write. When she became a mother, she realized that she couldn’t help her children with their homework or answer their questions. So she decided to learn and go to school.

130 million girls are out of school today. If this were the population of a country, it would be the 10th largest nation in the world – the size of the United Kingdom and France put together. The consequences are grave for these girls. Not only are they missing out on opportunities to fulfill their potential; they are more vulnerable as a result.

International Women’s Day marks the launch of ONE’s Poverty is Sexist Report, which draws attention to the crisis – and opportunity – around girls’ education. While every child should be in school, education for girls and women is a particularly smart investment because the benefits are far-reaching, and the consequences of not sending girls to school are dramatic.

The many benefits of sending girls to school

Like boys, when girls are educated they have better employment opportunities and their earning potential rises.  This is good for both individual and household incomes, but also for national economies:

the impact of addressing the gender gap in education could yield between $112 and $152 billion a year to developing countries.

Beyond improving the wealth of a country, educating girls can also improve overall health and wellbeing.  If every girl completed a primary education in sub-Saharan Africa, maternal mortality could fall by a dramatic 70% – in part because women with more education tend to have fewer children.

Girls out of school are not only missing out on opportunities to fulfil their potential; they are also more likely to become child brides, are more vulnerable to diseases like HIV, and are more likely to die young.

The barriers that prevent girls from going to school

While the importance of sending girls to school seems obvious, there are still a number of barriers standing in their way. These include direct and indirect costs, violence and security concerns, cultural norms and expectations, teaching and school climate, and inadequate school infrastructure.

So what will it take to make education work for every girl?   A radical shift is needed both in the way education is financed, and how those funds are used. ONE’s new report, ‘Poverty is Sexist: Why educating every girl is good for everyone’, sets out a path to 2020, to ensure the world is on track to achieve education for all by the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal deadline.

More funding is needed from all sources

First, both donors and governments need to increase financing for education. For governments in low- and middle-income countries, this means increasing domestic budgets for education to 5.8% of GDP by expanding tax bases and the share of spending on education to 20% of budgets.

For donors this means increasing ODA overall and spending 15% of ODA on education, while prioritizing schooling at the primary and secondary level, as well as low-income countries and conflict-affected and fragile states. It also means investing in multilateral organizations like the Global Partnership for Education, to strengthen education systems in countries with high numbers of out-of-school children and weak school completion rates.

Investing in education must lead to better learning

Second, and of equal importance, is for any increase in financing needs to be matched by country-level reforms that increase effectiveness and improve accountability for results.  While most education spending comes from countries own budgets, much of it does not lead to learning outcomes.

To make education work for every girl, leaders must commit to implement a package of reforms that will break every barrier, invest in every teacher, monitor every outcome, and connect every classroom.

Governments should ensure that actionable and measureable s70%teps, with a defined timeframe, are included in the education sector plan, with clear evidence of progress by 2020. Donors should explicitly call for reforms in these areas and support implementation through financial and technical assistance.

Finally, we need your voice to tell world leaders that all girls deserve an education.  This International Women’s Day, join people around the world at to count out loud from 1 to 130 million— a number for every girl out of school around the world. And join more than 350,000 people who have already signed this letter, which we’re delivering in person to leaders across the globe.    

#GirlsCount, make sure your voice does too.  


Education Policy Manager, ONE Campaign
Alice Jowett is the Education Policy Manager at The ONE Campaign. Prior to joining ONE Alice worked as an International Visiting Scholar at the University of Redlands, California. Alice holds a PhD in Global...

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