Two weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, for a debate on women’s right to education worldwide. 131 million girls do not go to school. This is a tragedy – not just for these girls but also for our global community. Can you imagine how much faster we will be able to eliminate global poverty if we can mobilise everyone’s ideas and talents? Educating girls is about seeing the whole world benefit from more diverse and holistic responses to the challenges we face through enabling each girl to reach her potential.
A report by the Global Partnership for Education, which is partially funded by UK aid, draws attention to the myriad of ways in which education benefits women, their communities and the global economy. These benefits include:
- Doubling of expected earnings in adulthood (one additional school year can increase women’s earnings by up to 20%)
- Reducing a women’s risk of contracting HIV
- Reducing the mortality rate of a women’s children.
- Hugely reducing risk of child marriage
- Addition of $28 trillion to global GDP (if women had the same role in the labour market as men)
Ensuring all girls and boys complete 12 years of free, equitable and quality education is one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Their goals, of which there are 17 in total, form an urgent call for cooperative action by all countries to end poverty, reduce inequality and improve health, education and environmental management. Adopted by all member states in 2015, the UN annually reports the progress made towards each goal.
There is much to be positive about; more and more girls are going to school. In the Global Partnership for Education’s target countries, 75% of girls finished primary school in 2016 compared to 57% in 2002. Additionally, 50% of girls completed lower-secondary school in 2016 compared to 35% in 2002.
I was pleased to see the Prime Minister commit to more aid for girls’ education – in August last year, Johnson promised £90 million for education in conflict zones, with a further £515 million announced a month later to get over 12 million children into school. In January, I submitted parliamentary questions to the Department for International Development to find out more about how this money was being spent; the list of evidence-based projects it funds is certainly heartening to read.
Yet it is not enough. In the same speech that Boris Johnson announced the extra funding, he also stated: ‘On current estimates it will take another eighty years to achieve the equality of opportunity we said we would deliver within fifteen.’ We cannot afford to wait another three generations; for the sake of these girls, their communities and the world, change must come sooner.
The trend of girls dropping out of secondary school continues. We need to better understand the multiple barriers behind these statistics – factors range from distance from school, through cultural norms, to early marriage – before we can combat them.
Furthermore, we must remember that access to education does not necessarily mean into quality education. The UN reports that many developing countries still lack basic infrastructure and facilities to provide effective learning environments. Investment in electricity, basic drinking water and technology is essential, as is high-quality training for the teachers themselves.
As former chair of the Education and Skills select committee, I have witnessed first-hand the difference that high-quality, inspiring education can make to people’s lives. I will continue to call for girls’ education to be at the top of the international development agenda, because educating every single child will transform our world for the better.