Following on from International Women's Day on Friday, much has been said about how the world can improve the opportunities granted to young girls. UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown hosted a panel discussion with the father of Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai on Friday to discuss every girl's right to learn. Ziauddin, a former teacher and headmaster, has been appointed Brown's special adviser on global education so will play a key role in helping to eliminate the barriers that prevent girls from going to school.
Worldwide, 32 million girls do not receive an education. But the research shows that if you educate a girl, you educate a family and benefit an entire community. Children of educated mothers consistently out-perform children with educated fathers and illiterate mothers. Given that children spend a considerable amount of time with their mothers, if a mother has been to school there will be a visible impact on their children's health, education and adult productivity thus increasing the chances of breaking the cycle of poverty.
A girl who has had more than six years of education is better equipped to seek and use medical advice, to immunise her children and to be aware of the importance of sanitary practices, from boiling water to washing hands. Not to mention educated girls marry later, are less likely to be victims of abuse (by older men) and will have fewer children and space them more wisely thus offering them higher levels of care.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it simply: "No other policy is likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition, promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and increase the chances of education for the next generation. Let us invest in women and girls."
However, creating change will require a global effort.The poorest countries need another 1.8 million teachers by 2015 – 1 million of them in Africa. But these teachers need to be trained and schools need to be built, and then equipped with textbooks, exercise books and teaching materials.
When governments met at the World Forum on Education for all in Dakar, Senegal in 2000, they pledged to help people realise their rights to basic education and lifelong learning, yet this is still far from being achieved 13 years later.
One success story is Ethiopia, who has invested heavily in teacher training, locating schools in disadvantaged areas, removing school fees and focusing on child well-being. The Ethiopian government have also increased the education budget to 23% of annual spending, meaning Ethiopia looks set to achieve the MDG of universal primary education by 2015. Let's hope other governments will follow their lead.
Photo of Malala - plan-international.org
Photo of girl writing - modernsocialworker.blogspot.com
Information from: educationenvoy.org