Ensure Equitable and Quality Education at All Levels

Give girls and women the chance to learn, and they will deliver more equitable, healthy, and prosperous societies.

In two-thirds of all countries, girls now enroll in primary school at the same rate as boys. However, global statistics mask persistent inequalities that still exist in many parts of the world, where girls are far more likely to be out of school. Hard realities such as poverty, school fees, travel distance, and the absence of menstrual hygiene management facilities at school limit girls’ access to education, especially at the post-primary level. As the development community embraces the new Sustainable Development Goals, improving access to quality education and training opportunities for girls and women needs to be at the forefront of the movement towards gender equity.

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  • Only 29% of countries have achieved education gender parity at the upper secondary level

  • 90% of children living with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school

  • Half of primary schools in developing countries lack adequate water and sanitation, increasing absenteeism among adolescent girls

  • 2 out of 3 illiterate adults are women

  • Every additional year of schooling for a girl increases her future earnings by 10 to 20%

  • Each additional year of schooling for children increases the average annual GDP by 0.37%

Investing in girls and women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women, but also for families, communities, and countries. Given the transformative power it has on society, the education of girls and women is a cost-effective investment. A one-year increase in girls’ education is associated with a 6.5–9.9% reduction in child mortality. Educating women helps break intergenerational poverty. Women who are better educated have fewer unplanned children, marry later, and drive national economic growth.

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Solutions in Action

  • Emergency Community Based Education Program in Afghanistan
    Case Study

    Emergency Community Based Education Program in Afghanistan

    Emergency Community Based Education Program in Afghanistan

    Due to ongoing political unrest, many children in Afghanistan are unable to attend school. And given cultural norms that prohibit girls from traveling alone, school enrollment rates among girls are lower than among boys due to distances between home and school. Yet in northwestern Afghanistan, the Emergency Community Based Education program — a joint initiative by USAID and the Afghan Ministry of Education — helped close the gender gap in remote communities. Through this intervention, communities provided the school space while the program partners delivered educational materials and teacher training. It succeeded in increasing girls’ enrollment by approximately 50%.
  • Improving Access to Education for Out-of-School Children (OOSC)-Sudan
    Case Study

    Improving Access to Education for Out-of-School Children (OOSC)-Sudan

    Improving Access to Education for Out-of-School Children (OOSC)-Sudan

    Largely due to a turbulent history of political conflict and poverty, Sudan has the highest rate of out of school children in Northern Africa. Nearly 3 million Sudanese children are missing out on basic education. The UNICEF-supported Improving Access to Education for OOSC-Sudan project provides direct support to 600,000 children who are out of school or at risk of leaving. The project targets vulnerable populations, including girls, nomadic groups, children with special needs, and children affected by poverty and conflict. Through a three-pronged approach, it encourages children aged six to nine to enroll directly into the formal education system; offers an Alternative Learning Program (ALP) curriculum for older children; rehabilitates classrooms to include WASH facilities; and provides teaching and learning materials.
  • Specialist Support from Traveling Teachers in Uganda
    Case Study

    Specialist Support from Traveling Teachers in Uganda

    Specialist Support from Traveling Teachers in Uganda

    Facilitating inclusion in the classroom is critical to ensuring that all children with disabilities realize their right to a quality education. To make classrooms more accessible for disabled children in Uganda, the non-profit Sightsavers trains teachers who travel around the country to help children with disabilities transition to a school environment. Traveling Teachers support inclusive classrooms in a variety of ways. For example, they find children with disabilities who are not in school and work with their families and communities to ensure they are found a place. They also visit children at home to help prepare them for school, for instance, by teaching Braille.
  • WASH in Schools Supports Healthier Schools and Healthier Children
    Case Study

    WASH in Schools Supports Healthier Schools and Healthier Children

    WASH in Schools Supports Healthier Schools and Healthier Children

    Schooling conditions can greatly affect the health and wellbeing of school-aged children. In recent years, the global partnership WASH in Schools has been advocating for schools to provide safe and drinkable water, improved sanitation facilities, and hygiene education that creates healthy habits for a lifetime. WASH in schools is important for adolescent girls who often miss school due to conditions that make menstrual hygiene management difficult, which is detrimental to their education progress. More research is needed to estimate the broad benefits that improved access to water and sanitation has on absenteeism among girls, but it is clear that the ability to manage menstruation safely and in privacy significantly improves their quality of life and confidence. A recent qualitative study conducted by UNICEF in Yatra, India (Maharastra province) revealed successful approaches – including small group sessions, data collection, and visual aids – to breaking the silence and taboos around menstruation, hygiene management, and safe solutions to reuse and dispose of menstrual waste.

Policy Asks

  • Create and enforce legislation, policies, and budgets that promote equal access to education systems and gender parity at all levels, including vocational training.

  • Reduce or eliminate the cost of schooling placed on families and communities across all levels of education.

  • Work with parents and communities to raise awareness on the importance of educating girls.

  • Ensure gender-sensitive education for all — including safe transportation, safe environments in schools, and appropriate water and sanitation infrastructure, such as menstrual hygiene management facilities and products.

  • Scale up education initiatives that focus on out-of-school children, including children living with disabilities and those affected by crises.

  • Invest in programs offering girls and women marketable skills through internships, apprenticeships, mentoring programs, and training opportunities.

  • Increase sport programs in formal and informal education settings as a way to teach girls critical life skills, boost their self-esteem, and promote gender equality.

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