The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Choose to Challenge’. The Right to Education Initiative is proud to support International Women’s Day - and we wish to mark it this year with a celebration of our own situation, enjoying a team which has newly expanded to include women based all over the world.
The members of our female-directed and run outfit have diverse backgrounds and nationalities, but as an organisation, we are united in the challenge that we choose this International Women’s Day. We choose to challenge states worldwide to improve girls' access to education and remove the barriers that prevent their enjoyment of this fundamental right.
At present there are more girls than ever before in education. This is a success to be celebrated, but cannot be mistaken as a signal to end efforts as globally there is still much to be done. Girls across the planet face multiple barriers to accessing education. These barriers are rooted in gender but intersect with a range of other factors like age, ethnicity, poverty, and disability.
The obstacles that girls face contribute to the stark levels of educational inequality that exist among the genders. According to the most recent global figures, at primary level 61 million children are out of school, 32.1 million or 53% of whom are girls. Many girls are completely excluded from primary education - 15 million girls will never step foot in a classroom, compared to 10 million boys.
While the yawning gap between the genders declines slightly with age and level of education at a global level, varying regional realities paint a troubling picture. In Western Asia, 20% of adolescent girls remain excluded from lower secondary education compared to 13% of boys. In sub-Saharan Africa, the female out-of-school rate is 36%, compared to 32% for males. Young women are also more likely to be excluded from upper secondary education in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Northern Africa, Southern Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Western Asia.
Crucially, despite the situation for girls’ education showing signs of improvement, the history of educational inequality for women is writ large. Of the 758 million illiterate adults across the globe, two thirds are women.
Today we challenge states to fulfil their obligations to girls and women and provide free, quality education without discrimination. We choose this challenge not just because education is a fundamental right and a necessary tool for children and young people’s development - but because education is a ‘multiplier right’.
Education is instrumental in enabling girls and women to benefit from and claim other key rights, including those related to work, property, political participation, access to justice, freedom from violence and health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. Indeed, the impact of educating girls is demonstrable. Educated girls are less likely to marry as children. Educated girls go on to earn higher wages. Educated girls go on to drive economic growth in their communities and societies.
Yet despite the multitude of benefits that arise from educating both genders, there is much to be done to erode the structural, institutional, regional, and local barriers that prevent girls and women from exercising their right to education. Sexism, discrimination, poverty, intersectional issues, pregnancy - the character of the challenge differs from region to region, nation to nation, locality to locality. But the underpinning rights which states are obligated to protect remain the same.
The right to education without discrimination is enshrined in international human rights law. Girls, as rights holders, are entitled to the full exercise and equal enjoyment of the right to education.
So, from the Right to Education Initiative this International Women’s Day, we choose to challenge states to assume their obligations under national, regional and international law and make education for all girls a reality.
Find out more about women and girls' education here.