Time and time again, young women tell me that it was through education that they found their voice and the agency they needed to write their own futures. Education opens doors to knowledge, opportunity and empowerment.
Yet the face of exclusion in education is still predominantly female and not a single country is on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of gender equality by 2030. Surely the instrumental role of education needs to play a bigger part.
We know that getting girls into school is not enough. There are many barriers to learning that are specific to girls and it is still extremely rare for the poorest girls to complete secondary school.
While education can be life-changing, it can also reinforce deep-rooted gender inequalities. For this reason, we must take a system-wide approach to achieving gender equality in and through education.
Girls’ experience of education needs to change
The political momentum for gender equality in education is building, reflected in the recent G7 Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, which calls for at least 12 years of safe and quality education for every girl and boy.
While tackling the social norms and overlapping causes of exclusion is essential, also of critical importance is her learning experience, starting before she arrives in class.
To achieve gender equality in school, girls must be safe from violence and harassment both on their way to school as well as in the classroom. Girls must have access to separate toilets so they don’t miss school during menstruation.
Girls must receive the same levels of attention and expectation from their teachers as boys - that they will perform to their full potential in all subjects and lift their aspirations. And they need to see themselves in textbooks as doctors, scientists and Prime Ministers as much as nurses, primary school teachers and mothers.