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World leaders off target by 150 years on girls education

World leaders off-target by 150 years on girls’ education

Two out of three girls affected by crises won’t even start secondary school

World leaders are putting the future of a generation of girls at risk as progress on girls’ education continues to stall, global children’s charity Plan International UK warns today. 

The charity is working with the UK Government to champion education for girls affected by conflict and disaster, as its new report estimates that world leaders are off-target by 150 years on the global goal for girls’ education. (1)

Launched to coincide with World Refugee Day, the report examines the state of girls’ education in crisis-affected countries. It estimates that 13 million girls have been forced out of school completely due to conflict, disaster and famine – the equivalent of three girls for every girl in school in the UK. (2 – see appendix for country breakdown.)

The report shows how girls affected by humanitarian crises are falling behind boys on almost every level. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable due to their age and gender. They are more likely to be married by 18 than to finish school, while two out of three won’t even start secondary school. 

Based on current trends, the authors warn that the global goal of ensuring all girls receive 12 years of quality education by 2030 won’t be reached for a further 150 years. In fact, by 2030, 1 in 5 girls in crisis-affected countries still won’t be able to read a simple sentence.

At the next UN General Assembly in September, world leaders will come together to review progress against the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 4 on education. Plan International UK is calling for governments and donors to use this chance to increase their spending on secondary education in crises.

International Development Minister Harriett Baldwin said: “A good education can change lives, which is why the UK Government is making sure millions of children around the world can access 12 years of quality education, to help them reach their potential and make a positive difference to their communities and economies.

“The UK Government is one of the largest donors to the only fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It is vital all international donors prioritise education, particularly for children in crisis affected areas.”

Plan International UK has previously spoken to girls affected by crises in Lake Chad Basin and South Sudan, who explained how the crisis has affected their education. (See appendix for additional quotes.)

Kwanye, 16, from Lake Chad Basin said:

“I could not continue my education because girls were being kidnapped from my school. Everyone wanted me to get married but I refused because I wanted to go to school. I had good grades, friends and was happy at school before the crisis. I always thought education would give me a better life. But one night, everything changed. I lost my parents. Uncles and siblings in the crisis. I constantly read my old books so that I don’t forget. I can’t go to school when I can barely afford to eat.” 

In South Sudan, 14-year-old Helena and her family were forced to flee their home after fighting broke out. Since then, Helena’s father and two of her brothers have died. Now Helena spends her days looking after the family’s cows.

“We had to leave all our clothes and utensils behind – everything. I was very scared. I have never been to school because there is nobody to pay the fees. If I could change one thing about my life it would be to go to school.” 

Tanya Barron, Chief Executive at Plan International UK, said: “This report is a wake-up call that more urgently needs to be done. The international community is lagging behind in its commitment to support 12 years of education for all girls around the world, particularly for those affected by conflict or disaster. 

“Globally, adolescent girls bear the brunt of poverty and inequality. Humanitarian crises deepen these inequalities, placing girls at greater risk of early marriage, gender-based violence and pregnancy. Meanwhile, extra household duties and heightened insecurity mean that adolescent girls face an uphill struggle to access the education they deserve.

“Right now, millions of girls are being left behind, and without action, their chance for an education may be lost forever. That’s why we’re calling on governments around the world to champion every girls’ right to a secondary education and to commit more funding at the UN in September.”  

Appendix 1

  • “Not all girls finish their education. Girls stop to get married, because of pregnancy or because of rape.” 18-year-old girl from Mora, Cameroon 
  • “I was registered for school before the crisis, what changed is that I’m scared all the time.” 16-year-old girl from Mora, Cameroon
  • “My parents used to tell me. They did not allow me to study due to the fear of Rakhine people. The Rakhine people do not like the girls to study. The Militaries used to torture the girls. That is why we were not allowed to study.” 18-year-old Rohingya girl, Bangladesh
  • “If they allow, we will study. If they make school for us, then we can study. If the teachers are male, we will not study.”  16-year-old Rohingya girl, Bangladesh 
  • “A girl who didn’t have school fees was advised by friends to have relationships with men in order to get school fees.” 10-14-year-old girl, Juba
  • “[I] worry the most about not having enough time to revise because [I] have to do a lot of house chores [and] may end up failing [my] exams because [I] am overworked.” 17-year-old girl, Baratuku 
  • “[I] feel like [I] should leave school in order to make money to take care of [my] family.” 15-19-year-old girl, Bidi Bidi refugee camp, Uganda
  • "There aren’t any schools in the camp and the public schools don’t have any space for us. Private schools are expensive." 18-year-old Syrian girl, Beirut
  • "Mama went to the school…registered her name and gave them all the necessary papers. They told her to let me enrol on Wednesday; I enrolled on Wednesday and then they told her ‘your daughter isn’t registered; her name isn’t on our file…My mother looked for a school. But none of them want me." 17-year-old Syrian Girl, Beirut
  • “I only went to school for two years in Syria, and I hadn’t learnt to read or write yet. In the Azraq refugee camp, I went to school again. I used a computer properly for the first time and fell in love with computers. One can learn anything with a computer! I dream of becoming a computer expert who teaches others how to use a computer.” Fatima*, 14, Syria

*Girls' names have been changed for child protection reasons

Appendix 2

a graph showing the number of girls out of school

Notes to editor

  1. Crisis-affected countries are defined as countries that have had Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) appeals or UN coordinated humanitarian appeals in at least two of the last five years (2014-2018).
  2. For every girl in school in the UK there are three around the world who have dropped out of school because of a humanitarian crisis. This is compared to the total number of girls aged 5 – 18 (excluding under 5s and 19-year-olds) across all schools, amounting to a total of 4.39m girls (statistics available here).