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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 more than half of the children who do not attend primary school.

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

Education for girls is one of the best development investments one can make, having a positive impact on a number of areas. It promotes health and welfare for the next generation, and can help reduce poverty and slow down population growth.

Some challenges

There can be many reasons why some girls do not start, or complete, school:

  • Poverty: Poor families often prioritize other expenses than their daughters’ schooling.
  • Child marriage: It is estimated that 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year (Girls not brides).
  • 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 their way to, or at, school. Teachers and other school staff are often involved.
  • Gender stereotypes and gendered attitudes: Traditional perceptions of gender roles often mean that educating girls is not regarded as being equally relevant and valuable as educating boys.
  • Lack of female teachers. Some parents do not want to send their daughters to school, or remove them from school when they reach puberty, unless the school has female teachers.
  • Sanitary facilities: Many girls leave school 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 for employment and income earning as 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 UNESCO, child mortality then drops by 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. 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. Meanwhile, 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, whereas boys generally achieve better results in mathematics. It is important to be aware of such gender differences when facilitating a good learning process for both girls and boys.

How Norway contributes

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 works to protect the rights of children.  Advocating and supporting the fulfilment of every child’s right to education is an important part of this work. UNICEFs presence in all low-income and lower-middle-income countries enables the organization to work closely with Ministries of Education to develop and strengthen national education policies, legislation and education systems, and to deliver quality education in an equitable manner.

UNICEF also hosts the secretariat for the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), a global partnership dedicated to promoting girls’ education and gender equality through policy advocacy and support to governments and other development actors. UNGEI promotes the building of evidence and sharing of good practice in girls’ education and gender equality, and seeks to strengthen collaboration and partnership.

Norway is also 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.

Published 30.10.2011
Last updated 07.09.2017