My manifesto: Educating girls across the world is a game changer
My manifesto for girls is a personal commitment to do all I can to achieve our ambition on girls’ education and gender equality
The 2019 Conservative manifesto committed the government to “standing up for the right of every girl in the world to have 12 years of quality education”. As the Prime Minister’s special envoy for girls’ education, I can proudly say that the United Kingdom has put women and girls at the heart of our foreign and development policy, supporting more than 10 million girls to gain a decent education since 2015.
I am sometimes asked why girls’ education is so critical. For me it is clear. With the education I was given in my home county of Cumbria, choices and pathways across the world have been open to me. To be barred from education is a travesty and a waste, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Girls’ education is transformational, and also critical, because it helps break intergenerational cycles of poverty. A child whose mother can read is 50 per cent more likely to live beyond the age of five; 50 per cent more likely to be immunised; and twice as likely to attend school themselves.
Sadly, post-Covid data on learning outcomes is shocking, with seven out of 10 children in low and middle-income countries unable to read a simple story by the age of 10. This jumps to nine out of 10 children in sub-Saharan Africa. The world has just passed the halfway point to the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 deadline, but progress is woefully off-track.
We must not be deterred. Instead, we must redouble our efforts on girls’ education, building on the progress we’ve made over the last decade. When I feel downhearted about the 244 million children out of school globally, I remember the girls I’ve met while travelling as special envoy. Many of them have faced barriers to education such as forced child marriage; physical violence and abuse; oppression and domestic servitude; gender discrimination within their communities; and increasingly suffer the effects of climate change and conflict – to name a few.
Girls’ education is transformational... because it helps break intergenerational cycles of poverty
Through our work alongside the international community, many girls are overcoming these terrible injustices. Their dedication to education is exemplary, their stories continue to inspire me, and their outcomes help me, in my role, to motivate others in positions of authority to support this global mission.
The benefits of girls’ education extend far beyond the girls themselves. Some start their own businesses to feed their families; make informed choices about contraceptives; or send their own children to school for the first time.
This mission has never been more important in Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s exclusion of women and girls from schools, universities and even some employment has been devastating.
My manifesto for girls is a personal commitment to do all I can to achieve our ambition on girls’ education and gender equality, and a call to action for others to support this work. I am focused on delivering the objectives in our International Women and Girls Strategy, launched by the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in March during a visit to his mother’s hometown of Bo, Sierra Leone.
Our focus on girls doesn’t mean that we value boys’ education any less. In fact, the majority of the Foreign Office’s education work benefits boys as well as girls, and it is only by involving boys and men that we can address harmful gender stereotypes and fight the discrimination holding back many women and girls.
Investing in education is not a quick fix and requires us to be patient and predictable partners. But the rewards – for girls, their communities and their nations – are priceless. Every girl deserves access to 12 years of quality education to unlock her rights, freedom and potential.
Helen Grant is Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald
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