Having just returned from an invigorating and inspiring Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, at which over 8,000 grassroots activists, NGOs, corporations and politicians gathered to power the movement for gender equality, I was greatly encouraged to see such a focus on education.
Education as a means to achieving gender equality was firmly on the map in Vancouver and was one of the most widely discussed topics – partially as a result of the hard work of INGOs in lobbying the Canadian government to prioritize both gender equality and education during last year’s G7 in Quebec.
Activists know the power of educating girls
It’s vital that we keep up the momentum around gender transformative education this year as France hosts the G7. Alongside impassioned Plan International youth delegates from Senegal and other Sahel countries, this is the argument I am making in Paris this week at the G7 France-UNESCO conference on girls’ and women’s empowerment through education.
Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez and Malala Yousafzai are just three young women from across the world using their voices to demand a more equal, sustainable and just world.
The transformative power of education for girls and their allies cannot be overstated. It’s a golden opportunity to tackle the harmful gender stereotypes that hold girls back, and to provide children of all genders with the knowledge they need to make safe and empowered decisions about their own bodies and futures.
In addition to improving quality of life, an inclusive education equips young people with the tools they need to develop as active citizens and champions of gender equality. We must ensure that our education systems do not reinforce harmful gender stereotypes – for example, through textbooks that exclusively depict men in high-powered careers and women in caring roles – but rather uproot them. School should be a space in which girls exercise their agency, make their voices heard, and discover their own power as leaders.
In August, G7 leaders have the opportunity to transform the lives of girls and women around the world through a commitment to 12 years of inclusive quality education for all children. This includes providing millions of girls across the world with safe and gender-transformative learning so they may find their voices and rise to the many global challenges we currently face.
The evidence: girls’ education works
The Global Goals have set the world an appropriately bold ambition: ensure inclusive and quality education for all by 2030. SDG 4 specifically commits us to address gender equality through education and remove the barriers girls face at school.
In the past decade, we have seen major progress in levels of primary school enrollment and increased girls’ access to education. But we must be bolder. Despite our progress, over 260 million children remain out of school worldwide, 130 million of whom are girls. Less than 1 in 3 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and fewer than half in South Asia enrolled in secondary school. 15 million girls of primary school age will never learn to read or write 1 – and even for those who do, success is challenging in a world in which girls’ ambitions are routinely dismissed and undermined.
The power and potential of girls and women are at stake.
At Plan International, we know investing in girl’s education is both the morally right and smart thing they do. Each additional year of schooling for a girl increases her future income by an estimated 10 – 20%, and in West and Central Africa, the direct impact of a 1% increase in girls reaching secondary education results in economic growth increase of 0.3%. Where girls are educated and empowered to learn, lead, decide and thrive, whole nations reap the rewards.
Calling on G7 countries to take action
Last year, we called upon G7 leaders in Canada to ensure quality education for women and girls in developing countries. Our efforts culminated in the Whistler Declaration on ‘unlocking the power of adolescent girls for sustainable development’ and the Charlevoix Declaration, which included a historic commitment to US$2.9 billion to girls and women’s education in crisis.
Building on these commitments, we call on G7 countries to publicly commit 15% of their total official development assistance (ODA) towards basic education, and at least 4% of their humanitarian aid to the education sector.
But increases alone are not enough, we need governments to target funds towards the vulnerable and most excluded: girls, including those living in crisis, and in the most disadvantaged regions. G7 governments must embrace gender-responsive budgeting and increase funding for gender equality through their aid programs, with at least 85% of ODA with gender equality as a principle or significant objective.
We also need to see systemic change through gender-responsive education sector planning, which places gender equality considerations at the heart of national planning and policy-making initiatives. G7 governments must lead the way in ensuring that plans, budgets and accountability systems consider the education needs of all children, and address discriminatory school policies, teaching practices and curricula.
What is gender transformative education?Gender transformative education seeks to explicitly challenge and eliminate gender bias and discrimination not only in the classroom, but in society more broadly. It seeks to identify critical gender disparities and addresses the underlying factors that contribute to those disparities, whether education related or not. Gender transformative education takes into consideration girls’ and boys’ specific needs, interests and lived experiences, and works toward equal educational outcomes for girls and boys. This includes equal access to education, participation in the classroom, learning achievements and completion.
Beyond basic education, targeted investments are needed to improve the quality and effectiveness of technical, vocational education and training (TVET) for adolescent girls and young women. Gender-transformative and youth-responsive programs provide girls with the skills and capabilities for decent work and therefore help to ensure a smooth transition into employment and entrepreneurship.
G7 leaders must uphold the French Presidency’s commitment to fighting inequality by prioritizing strong and sustained investments in girls at all levels of the education system. As well as promoting the realization of girls’ rights, we know that safe, inclusive and gender-responsive education is essential to future prosperity, gender equality, and ending to the inter-generational cycle of poverty.