On current trends, it will be almost 100 years* before all girls in Sub-Saharan Africa can make it through secondary school. That is shocking in itself, but all the more so because universal access to secondary education is a target in the global goals that governments committed to meeting by 2030.
Time is not a luxury - 2030 will be with us sooner than we think
This time last year, I celebrated the ambition of those goals. A year on, with the UN General Assembly meeting again, I struggle to see evidence that enough is being been done to ensure those promises will be met.
Many of us were pleased to see the position of women and girls recognised in the global goals. Empowering girls is critical to the future prosperity of their families and their communities.
Girls’ rights critical to development
We know that for every year of education a girl completes, her future income increases by 10%. We also know that women’s income is more likely to be invested in future generations. Yet, by the end of 2015, fewer than half of the world’s countries had achieved gender parity in secondary school enrolment, with 1 in 5 adolescent girls out of school.
The global goals offer an opportunity to transform lives across the world. But without much greater urgency, that chance will be missed. An analysis* by the Overseas Development Institute shows that without a global push to accelerate change, not one target will be met by 2030. For most, we won’t even get half way there, and for 5 of them, current trends are moving in the wrong direction.
One area where current trends promise little progress is ending child marriage, a violation that denies 15 million girls the opportunity to reach their full potential. At current rates, it will not be eliminated until 2080. If we’re going to meet the target by 2030, we will need to accelerate progress eight-fold.
If we fail, we not only abandon millions of girls today, but we betray millions more tomorrow. Failure to end child marriage will make it impossible to achieve targets on education which will in turn undermine our ability to reduce income inequality. Unless we vigorously pursue all the targets we have set, we risk missing many more. How can we hope to secure universal secondary education when girls in South Sudan are 3 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than complete grade 8?
What needs to be done
Join the global movement for girls' rights Despite the challenges, I remain optimistic. Change happens when the world rises up against injustice, when we come together to demand action. Through Plan International’s Because I am a Girl initiative, we have helped to create a movement that values and promotes girls’ rights. Those aims are reflected in the global goals. But we need now to see governments take concrete steps to turn words into actions.
Governments need to establish clear plans for overcoming the barriers they face in meeting the global goals. Civil society needs to help design and deliver practical action that responds to the lived experience of girls, and build new coalitions that give them the confidence and skills to make change for themselves.
Time running out
The global goals should make us more impatient for change, not less. We should shine a light on the progress made by institutions and governments, and highlight delays and half-measures. Critically, we can stand in solidarity with those incredible young people who challenge the discrimination they face, often at significant personal risk.
We have set demanding targets and given ourselves just a few years to achieve them. This demands an ambitious response: from national governments, from civil society and from supranational bodies, not least the UN. For every day’s inaction, the scale of the challenge gets larger. Time is not a luxury - 2030 will be with us sooner than we think.
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