Today is International Women’s Day, a moment to celebrate achievements made by women in all spheres of life, to mark progress in gender equality, and to reflect on how tenuous these gains are and what more needs to be done. Today, as I honour the power of women around the world and stand in solidarity with them, I would like to also acknowledge the importance of investing in girls.
Girls are leaders today, as well as our women leaders of tomorrow. We cannot achieve gender equality without investing in girls education and ensuring their rights are protected.
As you read this, COVID-19 is unraveling years of progress for women’s and girls’ rights and gender equality, setting them back in every area of their lives. Girls are particularly hard hit yet are invisible in the global response to the pandemic.
Setbacks to girls’ education are setbacks to their leadership
Since the onset of the pandemic, nearly 743 million girls around the world have been pushed out of the classroom due to school closures from the COVID-19 pandemic. Plagued by heightened risks such as child, early and forced marriage, gender-based violence and early or unintended pregnancy, over 11 million of them may never set foot back into school again.
Even before the pandemic, education was out of reach for many girls who were forced to drop out for the reasons stated above, but also simply because they are girls, and their education is valued less than educating boys. Sadly, if it’s a choice between sending a girl or her brother to school, it’s often the girl who loses out.
Education is foundational for a girl’s future in so many ways. Through Plan International’s work in over 75 countries worldwide, we know that investing in girls’ education is one of the most powerful tools to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage from one generation to the next. It has a multiplier effect on a girl’s agency and opportunities today and her leadership tomorrow. The impact it has on her future family and within her community is incontrovertible.
Better-educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labour market, earn more, give birth to fewer children, marry at a later age, and provide better health care and education to their children. According to UNICEF, when girls are educated, and particularly when they complete secondary education:
- Economies are strengthened
- Child marriage declines
- Lifetime earnings rise
- Child and maternal mortality rates fall, and child stunting falls
Research conducted by Citi Global Insights and Plan International, showed that emerging economies that achieve 100 per cent secondary school completion rates for girls by 2030 could see their GDP boosted by an average of 10 per cent.
We also know that for girls, schools are more than a place for education, particularly when gender roles and inequities are considered. Schools can provide a safe and empowering place where girls learn about their rights, are supported by trusted allies, grow their confidence, build their agency and gain important skills that are vital for their lives and future goals. Ensuring girls are able to complete secondary school, develop critical life-skills and make decisions that affect their lives is an important component of enabling them to reach their full potential.
Investing in girls’ education protects and promotes their rights, builds their agency as leaders today, and strengthens the future of women’s leadership in every sphere tomorrow.
Working alongside girls on leadership and rights
Plan International Canada works with children and young people – especially young women and girls – so that they can realize their rights. We do this by working with them and those in their communities to strengthen their knowledge, skills and agency. We address the root causes of inequality and harmful gender norms, working at all levels from the individual, to the household, community level and policies, systems and services level. As a result, girls are better prepared to seize opportunities as they enter adulthood, gain independence and develop their leadership. This important work has continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to programmatic interventions, Plan International Canada also advocates to governments and other leaders on girls’ rights. We co-create platforms for girls and young women to advocate for themselves because we believe firmly that no decision about girls should be made without girls. Space must be created for girls to be heard and for them to lead.
This International Women’s Day I encourage people all over Canada to join the many conversations about women’s achievements, their rights and how all genders can work towards gender equality. Share your opinions, your ideas and bring your creativity to these conversations, wherever they are happening, with girls as part of the conversation.
If you are a girl or young woman – International Women’s Day is a day for you and other girls in all their diversity. Your solutions for today’s problems are needed now more than ever.
The actions we take today will shape our future. Investing in girls’ education is a powerful action that helps girls take their rightful place as the leaders of today and protect the future of women’s leadership tomorrow.
Learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting girls, and how you can help Stop the Setback.