Girls’ Education: A lifeline to development – Jan Hemlin


Education is one of the most critical areas of empowerment for women. It is also an area that offers some of the clearest examples of the discrimination suffered by women.

Among children not attending school there are twice as many girls as boys, whilst among illiterate adults there are twice as many women as men.

Offering girls a basic education is one sure way of giving them much greater power – of enabling them to make genuine choices over the kinds of lives they wish to lead. This is not a luxury.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises that every child has the right to go to school to learn. That right begins in early childhood, which is one of the reasons why the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call on Governments to “ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education.”

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the child met for its first formal session in September 1991 and concluded that The Convention on the Rights of the Child established it as a basic human right. Additionally, The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women also established it as a basic human right.


Each year, UNICEF’s flagship publication, The State of the World’s Children, closely examines key issues affecting children. The 2016 report, “A fair chance for every child” includes supporting data and statistics and is available in French and Spanish, Arabic and Chinese language versions.

Despite great progress in school enrollment in many parts of the world, the number of children aged between six and eleven who are out of school has increased since 2011.

About 124 million children and adolescents do not attend school, and two out of five leave primary school without having learnt to read, write or do basic arithmetic, according to the 2013 data.

This challenge is compounded by the increasingly protracted nature of armed conflict. Nearly 250 million children live in countries and areas affected by armed conflict, and millions more bear the brunt of climate related disasters and chronic crises.

“When we provide education, shelter and protection for children caught in conflicts, we help mend their hearts and minds – so that someday, they will have the ability and desire to rebuild their countries,” says UNICEF.

An educated woman

In addition to educated women having a happier, healthier life, there are important benefits for society as a whole:

  • An educated woman has the skills, information and self-confidence that she needs to be a better parent, worker and citizen.
  • An educated woman is likely to marry at a later age and have fewer children. Cross country studies show that an extra year of schooling for girls reduces fertility rates by 5 to 10 per cent, and the children of an educated mother are more likely to survive. In India for example, the infant mortality rate of babies whose mothers have received primary education is half of that of children whose mothers are illiterate.
  • An educated woman is also likely to be more productive at work…and be better paid. Studies from a number of countries suggest that an extra year of schooling will increase a woman’s future earnings by about 10 per cent, compared with 11 per cent for a man.

Access to learning

Over recent decades there has been significant progress in girls’ education but what would it take to improve girls’ access to education?

  • Parental and community involvement – families and communities must be important partners with schools in developing curriculum and managing children’s education.
  • Low cost and flexible timetables – basic education should be free or cost very little. Where possible there should be stipends and scholarships to compensate for the loss of girls’ household labour. Also school hours should be flexible so children can help at home and still attend classes.
  • Schools close to home, with women teachers – many parents worry about girls travelling long distances on their own and many parents prefer to have daughters taught by women.
  • Preparation for school – girls do best when they receive early childhood care, which enhances their self-esteem and prepares them for school.
  • Relevant curricula – learning materials should be relevant to the girl’s background and be in the local language and should also avoid reproducing gender stereotypes.

Throughout our Federation Soroptimists recognise the value of Educating, Empowering and Enabling the girl child and do this through their project work.

A number of Clubs sponsor girls’ education to ensure that the girls stay at school as long as possible. This will increase their chances of delaying marriage and reduce the number of children produced.

Jan Hemlin – Acting Assistant Programme Director Education for Soroptimist International.