Poverty is Sexist: What we can do to get 130 million girls into school – Women Deliver

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January 28, 2018 Carmen Belafi ONE Campaign

Poverty is Sexist: What we can do to get 130 million girls into school


More than 130 million girls did not go to school today – a number so big if it were its own country, it would be the 10th largest in the world. If you started counting these girls from one right now, you wouldn’t reach 130 million until 2023. This is a global crisis and the consequences are dire.

Out of school girls are more likely to become child brides, more vulnerable to diseases like HIV and more likely to die young. Conversely, educating girls and women is a particularly smart investment with far-reaching benefits.

Girls who receive an education have better employment opportunities and their earning potential rises by almost 12% for every additional year of schooling. This helps both the individual as well as her family, community, and country -- in fact, the impact of addressing the gender gap in education could yield over $112 billion a year to developing countries.

Photo Credit: Sam Vox

Educating girls can also improve overall health and wellbeing. If every girl completed a primary education in sub-Saharan Africa, maternal mortality could fall by 70% – in part because women with more education tend to have fewer children.

Why, then, are there still more girls out of school than people living in the UK and France combined? Because Poverty is Sexist.


The barriers for girls are manifold and complex, especially in the poorest countries. Here are some of the most challenging:

  • Cost: Even in places where school fees are eliminated, costs for transportation, textbooks or uniforms can be too high to bear, especially for people living in extreme poverty. There can also be indirect costs, as girls who go to school lose out on potential income and spend less time at home, contributing to family tasks or taking care of family members.
  • Cultural Norms and Expectations: Many girls are forced to get married before their fifteenth birthday, give birth and take on household duties. As a result, it may seem less necessary for parents to send their daughters to school.
  • Violence and Security: Parents may also be deterred from sending their girls to school, especially in regions where the commute is not safe and where sexual violence against women and girls is widespread. This is a serious concern: Between 2000 and 2014, violent attacks on girls’ schools occurred three times more often than attacks on boys’ schools.
  • School Environment and Infrastructure: Schools and teachers may not create a gender-sensitive environment. For example, schools may not have separate bathrooms, discouraging girls from attending school during their periods. Furthermore, a lack of gender-sensitive teaching can result in girls being excluded from subjects such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and can generally create a climate where girls are not encouraged to learn.


But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are solutions and concrete action we can take to make education work for every girl.




Photo Credit: Sam Vox

First, there needs to be a radical shift in the way education is financed. Governments in low- and middle-income countries need to increase domestic budgets for education to 20%, as recommended by the Global Partnership for Education. Countries also need to implement reforms to increase the effectiveness, equitability, and accountability of their education systems and spending.

For donors, this means reversing the trend of declining aid for education, and increasing the share of official development assistance to education. Donors should also prioritize primary and secondary education, paying particular attention to the needs of the most marginalized, including girls, as well as low-income countries and conflict-affected and fragile states. Right now, leaders around the world have an opportunity to put their money where their mouths are by investing in the Global Partnership for Education. The next financing conference to raise $3.1 billion for GPE will take place in Dakar Senegal on 2 February 2018, and will support 65 partner countries to provide quality education for all, and especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Second, and equally important, all of these efforts must be coordinated and aimed at making education work for every girl. Leaders must commit to implementing a package of reforms that will:

  • Break every barrier to girls’ education, based on in-country assessments.
  • Invest in every teacher, including providing gender sensitivity training.
  • Monitor every outcome, by gathering of accurate, gender-disaggregated data.
  • Connect every classroom to the internet, and adopt relevant technologies.


We won’t end extreme poverty until we break down the barriers holding girls and women back. This is why we at ONE and more than 730,000 people around the world are asking world leaders to fully finance the Global Partnership for Education, and help get the 130 million girls into school. Make your voice count too and sign the petition here. To learn more about girls’ education, read our report ‘Poverty is Sexist: Why educating every girl is good for everyone‘.

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