I shuddered reading the information about a new United Nations report on the alarming rate of attacks on girls seeking an education, which looked at results over the last five years. In at least 70 countries, the basic right to go to school is life threatening. Girls are attacked — as well as parents and teachers who know that educating girls is not only a way out of poverty for a family, but oftentimes for entire communities. We know about the kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria, and the shooting of education activist Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. When accepting her Nobel Peace Prize, Malala told us more: “I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. Today, I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.”
Sixty-six million girls who cannot go to school. Who cannot learn. Who are prevented from reaching their full potential. Data from numerous studies indicate the value of investing in girls, for a multitude of reasons. Returns on investment for girls’ education are on average higher than boys. And, according to “Girls Count,” a report published by the Center for Global Development, “secondary schooling is a particularly powerful determinant of the health of future generations.” “Girls Count” references a “major analysis of countries where few girls received secondary schooling, family size averaged more than five children, of whom one to two died in infancy. But in countries where half the girls received secondary schooling, women averaged just over three children and child deaths were rare.”
Girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai reminded us in her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that it is time “for the world to think bigger.”
Thankfully, Counterpart International has been thinking bigger for many years. Counterpart recognizes the urgent need to support the education of girls to help them build better lives and more durable futures. One way we accomplish this is through our Food for Education program, in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which helps girls stay in school and stay healthy.
Counterpart knows that for any country to be successful in solving today’s challenges while building for the future, girls and women must be included in that effort. Counterpart’s gender equality approach is a core part of all of our programs, ensuring equitable access to opportunities, resources and benefits for both males and females. And while we work to ensure that girls have access to education and other skills needed to live full, empowered, productive lives, our focus on gender equality will always include the involvement of boys and men. As the UN report noted, changing the power structures of inequality “calls for the involvement of boys and men in the process of change.”
As Counterpart celebrates its 50th year, and looks forward to the next 50 years, we will continue to drive inclusion to ensure that all voices are heard, and that girls and boys, women and men are on an equal footing in the long walk toward a just and peaceful world.