“Education is a human right and an essential tool for achieving
the goals of equality, development and peace…
Equality of access to and attainment of educational qualifications
is necessary if more women are to become agents of change”
– Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 1995
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?
The education of adolescent girls is the catalyst that can deliver on global commitments for advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, building peace and security, and achieving the sustainable development goals. Yet, more than 130 million girls worldwide are not in school, of whom 96.5 million are excluded from secondary education. Despite increasing global gender parity in secondary school enrolment, only 29% of girls complete lower secondary and just 13% complete upper secondary in low income countries. There is a significant gender gap in learning in low income countries: 53% of girls versus 76% of boys aged 15-24 are able to read a simple sentence.
In many countries as girls transition from childhood to adolescence, they face increasing pressures to drop out of education. The reasons including cost, domestic responsibilities, sociocultural norms and expectations, early marriage, and early pregnancy. Girls living with disabilities, from ethnic minorities or living in remote areas face additional constraints.
Girls often lack confidence and their abilities and potential are undervalued by schools, teachers and themselves. Gender bias restricts the subject choices and girls are often not encouraged to enrol in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes or in technical and vocational training.
Adolescent girls are vulnerable to violence or harassment in school, travelling to and from school, or in boarding facilities. School related gender based violence has negative consequences for girls’ ability to learn and stay in school. In conflict settings, the provision of education suffers. Girls often face additional obstacles in accessing education due to fear or targeted attacks and the additional caregiving and household responsibilities they must assume. Educating girls is a foundational requirement for women’s empowerment in conflict-affected contexts.
The promotion of adolescent health, nutrition and well-being; ending discriminatory policies excluding pregnant girls and adolescent mothers from school; providing adequate water, sanitation and menstrual supplies in schools are also vital to ensuring girls stay in school and are supported to learn.
COVID-19 – Building Back Better
Global solidarity and action are essential to ensure girls are not left behind in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 12th May 2020, the Governments of Ireland, Liberia and Trinidad and Tobago, working with UN Women, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the Malala Fund, hosted an online event on Building Back Better for Adolescent Girls’ Education after COVID-19. Evidence from previous public health outbreaks demonstrates that school closures can exacerbate existing gender inequalities within education.
The event sought to shine a spotlight on the urgency for action on adolescent girls’ education as a catalyst for gender equality in the context of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting widespread closure of schools present specific risks for adolescent girls and threaten their continuing education. The speakers and participants outlined actions that would be required to support adolescent girls to continue their education, to return to schools when they re-open and to receive quality, relevant education in supportive, safe and healthy environments after COVID-19. Many lessons learned came from experiences of recovery after previous health crises, such as the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
While the COVID-19 crisis presents many challenges, it also provides an opportunity to revolutionise education systems globally so that they are more inclusive, resilient and gender responsive. The potential of distant education technologies can be galvanised to reach vulnerable and out-of-school children and reduce inequalities. The event brought together the voices of governments, the UN community, civil society and adolescent girls, who were invited to submit their ideas and lessons-learned both during and following the event for inclusion in this outcome document. The resulting publication is available here.
The consequences of COVID-19 for the most marginalized adolescent girls will last long beyond temporary school closures. Learning from the past and planning now for the future will allow actions to be taken to enable education systems to recover quickly and to meet the specific needs of adolescent girls as part of the COVID-19 response and recovery.
- Ensure that adolescent girls are provided with twelve years of free and quality education
- Provide supportive environments to build adolescent girls’ capabilities and confidence
- Provide adolescent girls with the learning and skills that they need
- Ensure that every girl is safe from violence
- Keep girls healthy and in school by providing adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in all schools and ensuring all girls have adequate nutrition