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When girls gain access to education they acquire important knowledge that gives them greater potential to get a job and an income when they are adults. Even with limited schooling the impact of education can be observed.
Photo: Ken Opprann

Girls’ education

Education is a universal right. Girls are still in the minority in schools in low-income countries, accounting for 54 per cent of the children who do not attend primary school.

Education for girls probably gives the best returns on investment in terms of development, having a positive impact on a number of areas.

It promotes health and welfare for the next generation, and can help to reduce poverty and slow down population growth.

Some challenges

Here are some of the reasons why some girls do not start school at all while yet others do not complete their schooling:

  • Poverty: Poor families often decide their priorities at the expense of their daughters’ schooling.

  • Child marriage: It is estimated that every day approximately 40,000 girls under the age of 18 are married off.

  • Early pregnancy: Girls who become pregnant and have children often do not return to school.

  • Gender-based violence: Girls are exposed to sexual harassment and violence on the way to school or at the school. Teachers and other school staff are often involved.

  • Gender stereotypes and gendered attitudes: Traditional perceptions of gender roles that characterize society often mean that educating girls is not regarded as being equally relevant and valuable as educating boys.

  • Lack of female teachers. Some parents in a number of countries or regions do not want to send their daughters to school, or remove them from school when they reach puberty, unless the school has one or more female teachers.

  • Sanitary facilities: Many girls who begin at school leave when they reach puberty due to a lack of sanitary facilities. 

Girls’ education promotes sustainable development

When girls gain access to education they acquire important knowledge that gives them greater potential to get a job and an income when they are adults. Even with limited schooling the impact of education can be observed.

Calculations show that for each additional year of schooling, a girl in a low-income country will increase her future income by 10−20 per cent (Hanushek, EA et al., 2011). As a result girls can also play a more active role in the political and social debate and in the development of their own society.

Mothers who have attended school themselves make greater efforts to ensure that their own children attend school. Education for girls can be the start of an upward spiral and lead women and their families out of poverty.

Countries with greater gender equality and fewer gender differences in the primary and secondary schools are more likely to have higher economic growth. An educated female population increases a country’s productivity and contributes to economic growth.

Improved health

There is a clear association between education and improved health. Girls’ education has a positive effect on the level of health in society. Being able to read and acquire knowledge will enable mothers to better look after their own and their children’s health.

This has a positive impact on maternal and child health. Knowledge influences women’s choices when it comes to pregnancy check-ups, childbirth and nutrition. Educated girls and women turn to the health services to a greater degree.

If all the girls in low and middle-income countries completed primary school, this would reduce child mortality for those under five by 15 per cent. When girls complete lower and upper secondary schooling the positive effect is dramatic. According to figures from UNESCO, child mortality then drops by a massive 49 per cent for those under five years of age.

Education is also effective when it comes to combating child marriage, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.

Gender equality

Equal educational opportunities for girls and boys are a fundamental human right and the basis of equal opportunities later in life.

Equality in education is about more than equal access for girls and boys. It also includes aspects linked to teaching practice, curricula, textbooks and teachers. A lack of equality in education often reflects the prevailing gender norms and discrimination in society.

The school and the learning it provides can play an important role in changing gender stereotypes and attitudes and in promoting gender equality. It is then vital to include knowledge and understanding of gender equality and gender sensitivity in the development of the curricula and to include knowledge of human rights and sexual reproductive health rights.

In many places, gender equality in education is still linked to an increase in girls’ access to education, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time in some countries and regions there is a need for a stronger focus on boys’ education. In Latin America and the Caribbean there are fewer boys than girls at the lower and upper secondary level, with 93 boys per 100 girls.

Global statistics reveal gender differences when it comes to learning outcomes. Girls generally do better than boys in reading and writing. In contrast boys generally achieve better results than girls in mathematics. It is important to be aware of such gender differences when facilitating a good learning process for both girls and boys.

What is Norway doing?

Girls’ education is a key priority area for Norway and it is targeted through a variety of channels.

UNICEF is the most important multilateral channel for Norwegian support to girls’ education. The organization is working on the introduction of national and local guidelines for gender equality in schools.

UNICEF hosts the secretariat for the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), which is a global partnership dedicated to acquiring knowledge about girls’ education and gender equality globally, regionally and nationally, and being a driving force in this connection.

Norway is an important donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). One of GPE’s five strategic objectives is that all girls in countries receiving GPE funding complete primary and lower secondary school and start at upper secondary school in a secure, supportive learning environment.

Girls’ education and gender equality is integrated in various ways in Norwegian bilateral aid to education. Girls’ education and gender equality must also be an integral part of the programmes of civil society organizations that receive financial support from Norad.

The Norwegian government will make special efforts to ensure that girls start and complete secondary education.

For example, Norway is supporting a Save the Children project in Malawi that integrates health and education in order to prevent teenage pregnancies. The programme aims at postponing young girls’ first pregnancy.

Another important element of the programme is that girls who are pregnant or who have given birth should be able to continue with their schooling. Norway also supports a joint UN project in Malawi to improve access to education for girls and enhance its quality. This project is a collaboration between UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Published 30.10.2011
Last updated 30.06.2015