UN Day of the Girl: What will it take to invest in a female future?

The shooting of a girls' rights campaigner brings into cruel focus the struggle to educate girls in the developing world - and the vital benefits this education can bring

Share

 

Two days ago 14-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, a prominent campaigner for girls’ rights, was shot in the head by the Taliban. Fortunately she survived. But this horrific incident of puts into perspective the issues and challenges that girls in Pakistan face to obtain their basic right to education.

There are brave girls like Malala, who have spoken out and demanded this right. And today is the first-ever UN Day of the Girl.

This is the time to take forward Malala’s message and ensure that all children, especially girls, are given the opportunity and safe environment for their education.

The power and potential of girls has been recognised as never before. The argument that investing in girls’ education is a smart thing to do has been won - yet 75 million are still out of school.

Is winning the argument enough to tip enough investment into their education?

75 million is more than the entire population of the UK. Failing to educate our population would be economic suicide – and the world’s poorest countries are losing £58 billion every year by not educating their girls.

Economists and development experts have shown convincingly that failing to educate girls makes the world a poorer place, limiting not just her potential but that of her community in terms of economic wealth and social justice. The evidence is that girls who stay at school have smaller families and those families are better off - so giving girls their right to education helps boys too.

These arguments are now the new orthodoxy, accepted by the governments around the world. Whether they decide to remove barriers to girls’ education - poverty, attitudes, poor quality teaching - will affect millions of lives, lives like that of Nargis. A year ago, she became the seven billionth human born on this planet in a village near Lucknow, India. Will Nargis’ life be different from that of her poor farmer parents, Vinita and Kumar?

She has already beaten the odds by being born. A preference for sons means fewer girls than boys are born in her state of Uttar Pradesh because of sex selective abortions .

At six, will she go to primary school? One of the big successes of development is that now, worldwide, almost as many girls as boys are enrolled in school - but enrolment is not enough.

A quarter of girls in Uttar Pradesh drop out because parents cannot afford the fees – a problem that costs the Indian economy, as a whole, more than £6 billion in income during a girl’s lifetime.

Investing in well-targeted scholarships or child benefit conditional on school attendance is a cost effective way of keeping poor girls like Nargis in school.

At 12, she has a 50:50 chance of either passing her exams and moving on to secondary school or of leaving primary school illiterate, and failing admission. Without good quality teaching, enrolment isn’t enough; and good teachers themselves can’t do much if girls are too busy with housework to do their homework.

When Nargis reaches adolescence, a personal tipping point is likely to come. And that depends on whether she is seen as a breeder or a learner. Will she learn the skills she needs for life at school? Or be taken out of school to get married and be a mother?

Her chances are 50:50. Half of girls are married before the age of 15 in Uttar Pradesh, while more than one in ten are mothers before 15. Throughout the developing world childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls between ten and 15.

But attitudes that see girls’ place in the home as a carer, not in school as a learner, are changing.

Nargis’ parents are clear they want a good future for their daughter - as a doctor or teacher, perhaps.

But the evidence proves they cannot accomplish this alone. For the last five years, the annual report on the State of the World’s Girls has been following a cohort of girls from poor families in nine countries. All want a better life for their daughters but family after family is knocked back with no school nearby or no money for fees.

So, on this first ever Day of the Girl, we should all stand up for girls’ right to education. We must get the Secretary General of the UN to put girls high on his new education initiative. Governments and donors must commit to nine years’ quality education for girls. And education money should be allocated to schools that are girl-friendly.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Balls has ruled out a return to politics - for now  

For Labour to now turn round and rubbish what it stood for damages politics even more

Ian Birrell
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?