The UK must seize the opportunity to champion girls’ education at the G7 Summit
Some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in history were made by women.
The chemist Alice Ball was just 23 when she found the cure to leprosy in 1915. Dame Sarah Gilbert, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, Katalin Kariko and Kathrin Jansen have made such invaluable contributions to immunology that without them, the Covid-19 vaccine might never have been created. And Ada Lovelace is considered the world’s first ever computer programmer after developing an algorithm in the 19 century that is used by computers to this day.
It would be a huge understatement to say that if these women had been denied an education, the world would be a very different – darker – place. And yet it is estimated that globally nearly 130 million girls are currently not in school and therefore unable to become the next Corbett, Kariko or Ball. As we are both champions of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), we believe this is a colossal waste of potential, human capital, hope, and decades of global effort that had begun to right these wrongs.
If every girl and boy was educated we could halve extreme poverty worldwide
The World Bank estimates that limited educational opportunities for girls are potentially costing countries between £12 trillion and £24 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings. The G7 has consistently found consensus on this issue, dating back to the founding of the GPE 20 years ago. But two decades of promises are not the same as two decades of delivery.
Next week a meeting will be held by G7 representatives to prepare negotiations for the Summit later this month. There could not be a better time to reflect on progress and what these commitments really mean: not faceless numbers, but real lives being saved and made worth living.
If every girl and boy was educated we could halve extreme poverty worldwide. We could halve the number of child deaths through educating mothers. We could prevent 200,000 people dying from natural disasters if every child received a full secondary school education by 2030. And we could achieve at least a ten-fold increase in economic growth for every $1 spent on education.
Under the United Kingdom’s leadership last year, the G7 adopted the Girls’ Education Declaration in acknowledgement of the transformative power of quality education for all. We were pleased to attend and see the progress made at the Global Education Summit in London, co-hosted by the UK and Kenya, but it is clear that change must be a conscious choice that we make each day. Which is why we welcome that the International Development Select Committee’s sub-committee, on the work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), is currently undertaking an inquiry assessing UK aid’s results in education. But we must also consider if we have used our global power as a force for real change? Have we done all we can to keep our promises to these children?
Since those commitments were made in 2021, the world has been plunged into yet more conflict, disaster and crisis.
As co-chairs of the APPG on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals we continued our campaign to improve global education at our recent event in Parliament. We were joined by British-Somali GPE youth leader Ayesha Farah, who said: “It frightens me to know that, as I deliver this speech, somewhere in the world a girl just like me is instead having her education hijacked by violence, discrimination, and circumstances beyond her control.”
Millions of girls are waiting in the wings to create the next vaccine, prevent the next war, help solve the climate crisis, and just to enact their basic right to empowerment through education.
We welcome that the Prime Minister has been committed to his aim for all girls to receive 12 years quality education and that the UK government has made girls’ education one of four top priorities in its new International Development Strategy. As Global Britain we should lead by supporting GPE’s specialist Girls’ Education Accelerator, which will advance gender equality in and through education for the furthest behind.
Women like Dr. Corbett have had impacts that will inspire future change. The UK has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve this at scale; to create an enduring legacy that has a ripple effect across the world, for many generations to come.
Theo Clarke is the Conservative MP for Stafford. Lord McConnell is a Labour peer. They are co-chairs of the APPG on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
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