Call to action:
Ensure that girls everywhere can safely access and complete twelve years of free, safe, gender-equal, quality schooling.
Realizing the potential of women is foundational to planetary regeneration, but this requires girls to be fully educated and empowered. When girls finish their education, cycles of poverty and oppression can be broken, leading to healthier, smaller families and greater resilience. An educated populace of women improves a nation’s health, food security, and economy. However, only one in four nations has achieved parity in upper-secondary school enrollment, and very few poor, rural young women are able to complete their education in a number of countries deeply impacted by climate disasters. Girls are often the first to have to withdraw from school when families are stressed by poverty, war, political instability, cultural repression, or environmental degradation. Their leadership and participation is an effective, rights-based path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and leads to more effective and just climate action.
Learn why we need to close the gender gap in education as a tool for building resilience and regeneration, and learn about the challenges girls continue to face. Providing quality education for girls results in measurably healthier communities. If every woman received a secondary education, twelve million children would avoid suffering malnutrition, saving three million lives. Better educational attainment by women leads to communities that are more resilient to climate shocks. Female leaders are highly effective in conservation and climate activism, protecting key carbon sinks such as forests, oceans, and peatlands. Yet poverty, along with patriarchal tradition and the rise of fundamentalism, continues to hold girls back. One of the main reasons that girls’ education lags is its expense. This Global Education Monitoring Report outlines the legal, financial, and structural issues that stand in the way of equality. Benefits of girls’ education include:
- Women who have completed secondary education are more likely to work and earn on average nearly twice as much as those with no schooling, according to a report by the World Bank.
- A Brookings Institution study showed that for every additional year of schooling a girl received on average, her country’s ability to adapt to climate change improved as measured by the ND-Gain Index, which calculates a nation’s vulnerability in relation to its resilience.
- A 2020 study showed that women-led nations had a measurably better handle on the coronavirus pandemic. However, the pandemic resulted in reduced attendance and increased dropout rates for girls. This Malala Fund report estimated that across low- to middle-income countries, millions of school-aged girls may have lost access to education.
- This UNESCO fact sheet summarizes how girls’ education has positive effects on economic growth as well as a reduction in maternal deaths in childbirth.
- Integrating reproductive health education into secondary school curricula empowers young people to make informed family-planning decisions, typically resulting in lower birth rates. In sub-Saharan Africa, women without education have 6.7 children on average, but the figure falls to 3.9 for those with secondary education. The state of Kerala in India has encouraged girls’ education through campaigns and policies, coupled with investment in providing access to family planning. Kerala currently averages 1.7 children per family, on par with many European countries.
- Keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to prevent child marriage. For every year of secondary school completed, a girl’s likelihood of early marriage decreases. Girls Not Brides is a network of organizations working in one hundred countries to advocate for girls’ rights and education.
- Governments with higher proportions of women leaders ratify international environmental treaties more often and adopt more stringent climate change policies. As a result, these nations have lower carbon dioxide emissions, suggesting that female political representation is an underutilized tool for addressing climate change.
- Project Drawdown modeled the impact of increased voluntary family planning and universal education together in this policy brief, projecting that adopting this solution would have one of the largest projected impacts on emissions avoided by 2050.
Support organizations that promote access to free, safe, quality education for every girl. This could take the form of financial donations, offering services and materials, or organizing and educating your local community. This engagement toolkit was created by the “Let Girls Learn” Peace Corps initiative founded by former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama.
- Follow or become a member of one of the many nonprofits working on the issue, such as Malala Fund or Brookings, to learn more ways to get engaged or start a local chapter (see Key Players below).
- Amplify fundraising support by organizing an educational event such as a film screening, sale, or walkathon. This Take Action brief created by Girl Rising includes ideas for events to educate and motivate communities while generating donations.
- The UN Girls’ Education Initiative launched #Education Equality in 2020, marking twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which has been called the international community’s most progressive blueprint for advancing the rights of girls and women.
Speak up and take action for girls’ rights to education. Write an op-ed for a newspaper or submit an article to an online magazine such as this one.
- In March 2022, many students in Afghanistan were devastated to learn that the Taliban government would not keep its promise to reopen secondary education to girls. Here is the Twitter account for the Afghan Ministry of Education, and here is an Avaaz campaign to get Afghan girls back in school.
- Follow some of the impactful work of leading organizations and activistsin the universal education movement—see below under Key Players—and post about them. Lift up a powerful voice in the girls’ empowerment conversation, such as those of Michelle Obama, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Vanessa Lakate, or Rebecca Winthrop.
Demand passage of legislation that supports universal education. This can involve legislation to combat gender bias in education or to remove obstacles to finishing school, both domestically and globally. In the U.S., the Keeping Girls in School Act aims to fund international efforts to remove barriers to gender-equal secondary education. You can send an email to government officials urging them to advance the bill via this campaign.
- Join the international #RightToEducation campaign run by UNESCO to say no to discrimination in education and find out here if your country has ratified the legally binding Convention Against Discrimination in Education that makes free, compulsory education for all a fundamental right.
Volunteer as a mentor, teacher, or tutor for underserved girl students. There are many ways to get involved on these levels both online and in person. Search for relevant opportunities through a volunteer/job board such as Idealist.org. Here are a few examples of programs needing volunteer support:
- The School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA) organizes volunteers who give instruction both remotely or at schools for girls in several countries.
- Mentorship brings together women and at-risk girls to help inspire and support their futures. This U.S.-based program is organized by Step Up and offers several ways to get involved.
- Global Vision organizes international volunteer and internship opportunities with a number that focus on the empowerment of girls and women.
- California-based Children Rising connects volunteer tutors with youth in need of support in the state.