“Today, we celebrate the young people, youth-led organizations, Governments and others who are working to transform education and uplift young people everywhere.”
— UN Secretary-General António Guterres
August 12th marks the United Nations’ International Youth Day, which celebrates the impact and involvement of youth in society. This year’s theme highlights efforts to make education more inclusive and accessible for all youth, including efforts led by young people themselves.
Access to education has many benefits, including increasing economic opportunity, improved health outcomes, reduced inequalities, and action for peaceful societies. Sadly, many children around the world still have little to no ability to attend school safely or receive a sufficient education, with over 100 million illiterate youth today. What this data does not detail is the even greater concern of disparity between boys’ and girls’ access to education.
UN Sustainable Development Goal #5 is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” and targets the empowerment of girls and women through access to education, healthcare, and equal rights. In many cultures, women are meant to be the primary household managers; cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children and elders. These norms are more frequently perpetuated in areas under economic stress or conflict, and increase acceptance of early marriage and other gender-based oppressions that inhibit girls from attending school. Both early marriage and the intellectual repercussions limit women’s agency, perpetuate gender-based violence, and inhibit economic mobility. Broader security concerns also impede girls’ access to education. Lack of transportation, unsafe communities, and being targeted physically all contribute to girls being unable to attend school.
Counterpart International recognizes the countless benefits of educating girls. In fact, our organizational approach integrates their participation across all of our programs by offering trainings and activities for girls and young women to gain critical thinking skills, support to advocate for themselves, and the ability to contribute to critical movements within their communities.
Counterpart’s Women’s Participation Project (WPP) in Azerbaijan works to improve the status of women in the country and provide them with the skillsets needed to support their decision-making. Azerbaijan is plagued by the tradition of early marriage, which leads to girls being removed from school at an early age, particularly in rural areas. Many of the women in the country have their fates decided by their male family members and those who are encouraged to pursue their education have their career paths impeded by having to assume the role of family caretaker. WPP works throughout Azerbaijan to build women’s self-confidence and networks, with various trainings in media and digital marketing, leadership, and personal development. Uniting young women provides the opportunity for them to learn from each other and to act together in their communities.
In Bangladesh, our Promoting Advocacy and Rights (PAR) project is working to advance citizen participation in a closing civic space environment. Women still face discrimination, exclusion, and injustice, and have negligible influence in decision-making processes. Discriminatory laws and policies hinder gender equality and socio-political conditions prevent women from exercising their rights. PAR works to educate girls and women outside of the classroom, providing trainings that give them skills to conduct advocacy campaigns for issues in their local communities. PAR works throughout Bangladesh to educate the general public on the additional challenges that women face within the country, particularly gender-based violence and early marriage. PAR has also recognized that with the rapid development of technology, there is need to teach internet safety skills to help women to stay safe online and to identify web-based gender violence.
Counterpart’s Afghan Civic Engagement Program (ACEP) provides professional skills development to young girls and supports them to be leaders of change and drivers of engagement in their communities. Understanding the ongoing lack of education opportunities for girls in Afghanistan, ACEP works with girls to enhance their soft skills and develop their confidence. ACEP has supported opportunities to build the young women’s skills in public speaking, leadership, broadcasting and social media, community engagement, and civic activism. Counterpart’s Emerging Civil Society Leaders program under ACEP provides educational opportunities for marginalized youth and girls to become leaders in their communities. This leadership program also provides networking and travel opportunities to young women leaders who may not otherwise be allowed to visit other provinces or countries to learn from their peers.
International Youth Day provides the global community an opportunity to celebrate the progress we have made in advocating for our youth and reflect on what still must be done. The struggle for equal academic and economic opportunity still exists for girls around the world. While formal education is not a realistic possibility in some countries, this does not mean that there are not alternative ways to support learning.
Counterpart will continue to strive for equal access to education for all and hopes that — while it is not a current reality — the global community finds innovative ways to educate and support girls and young women. Join us in a pledge to support lifelong learning opportunities for youth, the next global changemakers.