Across the world, girls are less likely to be enrolled in school, and even less likely to complete a basic education, than boys. In many countries, girls face much higher barriers to getting into school. Entrenched traditions, poverty, inadequate facilities and sometimes lack of government are some of the many hurdles that disproportionately affect girls and hamper their education.
As long as girls are left behind, the goals of educating all children and ensuring real human development can never be achieved. A girl who is denied an education is more vulnerable to poverty, hunger, violence, abuse and exploitation, trafficking, HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality – a legacy that may well be passed on to her own children.
Few of the Millennium Development Goals will be met unless there is significant progress in girls’ education. Educating girls is a sure way to raise economic productivity, lower child and maternal mortality, improve nutritional status and health, reduce poverty and eliminate HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
Getting more girls into school today will also pay enormous dividends for the next generation. A girl who has an education is more likely to contribute fully to political, social and economic life and grow up to be a mother whose own children are more likely to survive, be better nourished and go to school themselves. She will be more productive at home and better paid in the workplace. She will be better able to protect herself and her children.
The best way to ensure quality education for all children – boys as well as girls – is to eliminate the barriers that keep girls out of the classroom: schools that are long distances from home, school feels and other hidden costs, lack of safe water and sanitation, discrimination and the threat of violence.
The challenge is a daunting one and requires the combined efforts of more than just one organization. Strong in its capacity as a convener for children, UNICEF is the lead agency in the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, a network bringing together governments, donor countries, other United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and other partners to ensure that by 2015, all children complete primary schooling, with girls and boys having equal access to all levels of education.