In August, G7 leaders could transform the lives of girls and women around the world through a commitment to 12 years of inclusive quality education for all children.
Education remains high on the G7 agenda – partially as a result of international NGOs like Plan International lobbying the Canadian government to prioritise both gender equality and education during last year’s G7 in Quebec. It’s vital we keep up the momentum around education this year as France hosts the G7.
Alongside impassioned Plan International youth delegates from Senegal and the Sahel and key partners such as the Global Partnership for Education and the United Nation’s Girls Education Initiative, this is the argument I will be making in Paris this week at the G7 France-UNECSO conference on girls’ and women’s empowerment through education.
Girls are ready to follow young leaders
The transformative power of education for girls and their allies cannot be overstated. It’s a golden opportunity to tackle the harmful gender stereotypes that hold girls back, and to provide all children and young people with the knowledge and skills they need to make safe and empowered decisions about their own bodies and futures. Girls and young women all over the world are ready to follow the bold actions of young leaders like Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez and Malala Yousafzai.
School is a space in which girls can make their voices heard and have their first leadership opportunities. Plan International’s Champions of Change programme, which we implement in 34 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas, supports girls and boys to understand how gender inequality impacts their education and their lives and how to advocate for change. Approaches like this should be integrated into national civic education curricula.
130 million girls are still out of school
In the past decade, we have seen major progress in levels of primary school enrolment and increased girls’ access to education. But over 200 million children remain out of school worldwide, 130 million of whom are girls. In conflict-affected countries, children are more than twice as likely to be out of school. Girls and young women are often the first to lose out, and as a result are denied the chance to develop skills that will help them take charge in their homes, careers, communities and countries.
Last year, we called upon G7 leaders in Canada to ensure quality education for women and girls in developing countries. Our efforts culminated in the Whistler Declaration on ‘unlocking the power of adolescent girls for sustainable development’ and the Charlevoix Declaration, which included a historic commitment to USD $2.9bn to girls and women’s education in crisis.
Building on these commitments, we want G7 countries to publicly commit 15% of their total official development assistance towards basic education, and at least 4% of their humanitarian aid to the education sector. But increases alone are not enough, we need governments to target funds towards the vulnerable and most excluded: girls, including those living in crisis, and in the most disadvantaged regions. G7 governments must embrace gender-responsive budgeting and increase funding for gender equality through their aid programmes.
Gender equality at the centre of education
We also need to see education systems change through gender-responsive education sector planning with gender equality as a central goal. G7 governments must lead the way in considering the education needs of all children and addressing discriminatory school practices and curricula. Teachers, for example, have a profound role to play in challenging harmful gender norms and stereotypes. Plan International’s gender responsive pedagogy teacher training approach has demonstrated the benefits for students and teachers of gender transformative education.
Beyond basic education, targeted investments are needed to improve the quality and effectiveness of technical, vocational education and training. Ensuring adolescent girls and young women have the skills for decent work helps a successful transition into adulthood.
In Biarritz in August, G7 leaders must uphold the Fench Presidency's commitment to fighting inequality by prioritising strong and sustained investement in girls at all levels of the education sysytem. This is essential to future prosperity, gender equality, and ending to the intergenerational cycle of poverty.