Girls' education

Gender equality in education benefits every child.

A girl stoops over her lap, writing diligently in a pad of paper, and surrounded by colourful books.
UNICEF/UN0284179/LeMoyne

Investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries and the entire world. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families.

Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals – including boys and men – the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

But education for girls is about more than access to school. It’s also about girls feeling safe in classrooms and supported in the subjects and careers they choose to pursue – including those in which they are often under-represented.

When we invest in girls’ secondary education

  • The lifetime earnings of girls dramatically increase
  • National growth rates rise
  • Child marriage rates decline
  • Child mortality rates fall
  • Maternal mortality rates fall
  • Child stunting drops

Why are girls out of school?

Despite evidence demonstrating how central girls’ education is to development, gender disparities in education persist.

Around the world, 132 million girls are out of school, including 34.3 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67.4 million of upper-secondary school age. In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries.

Worldwide, 132 million girls are out of school.

Only 66 per cent of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education. At the secondary level, the gap widens: 45 per cent of countries have achieved gender parity in lower secondary education, and 25 per cent in upper secondary education.

The reasons are many. Barriers to girls’ education – like poverty, child marriage and gender-based violence – vary among countries and communities. Poor families often favour boys when investing in education.

In some places, schools do not meet the safety, hygiene or sanitation needs of girls. In others, teaching practices are not gender-responsive and result in gender gaps in learning and skills development.

A young girl stands in front of a chalkboard facing her class to explain a math equation.
UNICEF/UN0211138/Noorani
A young girl solves a math equation on a blackboard at Umbatah Basic School for Girls in Kadugli, Sudan.

Gender equality in education

Gender-equitable education systems empower girls and boys and promote the development of life skills – like self-management, communication, negotiation and critical thinking – that young people need to succeed. They close skills gaps that perpetuate pay gaps, and build prosperity for entire countries.

Gender-equitable education systems can contribute to reductions in school-related gender-based violence and harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Gender-equitable education systems help keep both girls and boys in school, building prosperity for entire countries.

An education free of negative gender norms has direct benefits for boys, too. In many countries, norms around masculinity can fuel disengagement from school, child labour, gang violence and recruitment into armed groups. The need or desire to earn an income also causes boys to drop out of secondary school, as many of them believe the curriculum is not relevant to work opportunities.

UNICEF’s work to promote girls’ education

UNICEF works with communities, Governments and partners to remove barriers to girls’ education and promote gender equality in education – even in the most challenging settings.

Because investing in girls’ secondary education is one of the most transformative development strategies, we prioritize efforts that enable all girls to complete secondary education and develop the knowledge and skills they need for life and work.

This will only be achieved when the most disadvantaged girls are supported to enter and complete pre-primary and primary education. Our work:

  • Tackles discriminatory gender norms and harmful practices that deny girls access to school and quality learning.
  • Supports Governments to ensure that budgets are gender-responsive and that national education plans and policies prioritize gender equality.
  • Helps schools and Governments use assessment data to eliminate gender gaps in learning.
  • Promotes social protection measures, including cash transfers, to improve girls’ transition to and retention in secondary school.
  • Focuses teacher training and professional development on gender-responsive pedagogies.
  • Removes gender stereotypes from learning materials.
  • Addresses other obstacles, like distance-related barriers to education, re-entry policies for young mothers, and menstrual hygiene management in schools.

Resources

e-Toolkit on Gender Equality in Education

This course aims to strengthen the capacity of UNICEF's education staff globally in gender equality applied to education programming.


Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All

This report draws on national studies to examine why millions of children continue to be denied the fundamental right to primary education.


GirlForce: Skills, Education and Training for Girls Now

This report discusses persistent barriers girls face in the transition from education to the workforce, and how gender gaps in employment outcomes persist despite girls’ gains in education.


Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls

Investing in data is critical to understand girls’ ongoing and emerging challenges.


UNICEF Gender Action Plan (2018–2021)

This plan specifies how UNICEF will promote gender equality across the organization’s work, in alignment with the UNICEF Strategic Plan.


Global Partnership for Education

This partnership site provides data and programming results for the only global fund solely dedicated to education in developing countries.


United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative

UNGEI promotes girls’ education and gender equality through policy advocacy and support to Governments and other development actors.