Op-ed: Forget teaching a man to fish – focus on ensuring every girl can learn
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A girl in class at the Nyamachaki Primary School, Nyeri County.  Kenya. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Today, 130 million girls will not go to school. Nearly all of them live in low-income countries, where girls are still one and a half times more likely than boys to be excluded from primary school.

In this opinion piece, GPE Board Chair Julia Gillard affirms that ensuring every girl receives a quality education will reap dividends for the safety, security and prosperity of all of us, and for the next generations.

This OpEd was originally published in The Telegraph

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Later this year the UK will undertake what Boris Johnson has called the “biggest security, defence and foreign policy review since the end of the Cold War”.

At a time when the world faces a range of threats, from epidemics like COVID19, to economic crises, to climate change, a review like this could not come at a more important time.

When I served as Prime Minister of Australia, I undertook a major review on our nation’s strategic positioning in the world.

Undertaking that work and considering security challenges, it quickly became clear to me that combating the threats that Australia faced required a joined-up approach to foreign policy that looked at the long term causes of conflict, instability and terrorism.

I saw that the most powerful protection we can have from present and future threats is an educated, enfranchised and empowered next generation.

Today, in my life post politics, I am still persuaded this is the best approach and I agree with Prime Minister Boris Johnson that “the Swiss Army knife that solves a multitude of the world’s problems” is girls’ education.

Ensuring every girl is in school and learning is not just a good and moral thing to do, it’s the critical early intervention that acts in all of our interests. As Boris has said, “in countries where there is poverty, civil war, that have massive population booms, that are prey to radicalization, the common factor is female illiteracy, the under-education of women and girls”.

That is why, as the Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, gender equality is at the very root of what we do. We stand with world leaders, like the UK, and build the capacities of governments in poorer nations in order to the make the commitment of every girl in the world getting 12 years of quality education and training a reality.

On Monday, I will speak to parliamentarians and urge them to keep girls’ education at the heart of British foreign policy.

Today, 130 million girls will not go to school. Nearly all of them live in low-income countries, where girls are still one and a half times more likely than boys to be excluded from primary school.

The good news is that things are changing. When the UK helped create GPE it did so because it knew that if every girl and boy had 12 years of education, 420 million people would be lifted out of poverty and 200,000 disaster-related deaths would be prevented each year.

It knew that educating girls could help unleash a demographic dividend; reducing poverty, increasing productivity, and cultivating future business owners, scientists and world leaders.

That foresight, and investment in building proven interventions that work, means that the UK and GPE’s work is now delivering results.

In Kenya, we helped achieve universal primary enrollment for girls in the most remote areas, such as by hiring female teachers.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we are enabling girls and boys to dream up different futures by removing gender stereotypes from textbooks.

In Afghanistan, we worked with communities to break down barriers to girls’ education, more than doubling the number of girls in primary school in a decade.

Across all the countries where GPE works, 41 million more girls are in school than when we began. With our support, they stand a better chance of finishing primary school and continuing their education.

That’s 41 million future doctors, scientists, activists, and hopefully, future parliamentarians and Prime Ministers who will help us tackle the great challenges of tomorrow.

That progress shows that your Prime Minister’s commitment to having every girl in school is more than a distant ambition, it’s a goal within our grasp. Achieving it will reap dividends for the safety, security and prosperity of all of us, and of the next generation.

Forget teaching a man to fish, the future is in ensuring every girl can learn.

* Hon Julia Gillard AC was the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and is the Chair of the Global Partnership for Education.

A girl in class at the Nyamachaki Primary School, Nyeri County.  Kenya. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Gender equality

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