Education has a transformative impact on individuals, communities and entire economies. Education is central to the empowerment of women and girls, and provides the key foundation for a productive life.
There have been gains in girls’ education but challenges remain
Impressive gains have been made in getting more children into school in developing countries, with around 70 million more children in school since 1999. However, some quite intractable challenges remain as there are still 32 million girls who are not in primary school and gender disparities widen the higher up the education system you go.
Getting girls into school is a vital first step but ensuring they stay in school to complete a full course of education and creating the conditions for girls to learn are also challenges. Currently there are millions of school students, especially in South and West Asia, whose quality of education is so poor that despite years of education, they cannot read, write or do basic mathematics.2
Girls in conflict-affected regions are particularly at risk. UNESCO data shows that girls who live in conflict affected countries are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than their male counterparts3. Girls who do manage to stay in schools are often disproportionately targeted; girls are kidnapped, bear the brunt of sexual violence— often at school or on the way to and from school—and are forced into early marriage.
The poorest girls living in rural areas are the farthest behind, many having spent less than three years in school. Vulnerabilities like being from an ethnic or linguistic minority, having a disability or speaking a different mother tongue also compound marginalisation.
The world’s best investment
Educating girls is one of the world’s best investments as it offers truly wide-reaching returns. Educating girls not only leads to economic growth and increased incomes but it contributes to reduced rates of maternal and infant mortality. Educating girls reduces the incidence of malaria and HIV/AIDS, and educated girls are less likely to be forced into child marriage. Educated women have a positive impact on agricultural production, communities’ resilience to natural disasters and they take more of a leadership role in decision-making.4
Reducing the barriers to education for marginalised girls remains a high priority for Australia. Australia is assisting young women from ethnic minority groups in Laos to become teachers, giving them leadership and employment opportunities close to home and providing much-needed female role models for young girls in remote communities.
Across the Indo-Pacific, Australia is helping women and children with disabilities to access life-changing education opportunities, by allowing them to go to school for the first time, be involved in leadership and decision making roles and access job skills which provide new income opportunities.
Australia’s three-year (2017-2019) $220 million package to assist people affected by the Syria crisis is supporting vulnerable children in Jordan and Lebanon to access school, including by addressing the barriers to girls’ education such as early marriage and violence.
And through the Australia Awards, local education leaders are being supported to access Australian university degrees and training to enhance education management reform and improvements in teacher training.