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Girls Denied Education Worldwide

Where are all the girls?

I am the first child of my parents. I have a small brother at home. If the first child were a son, my parents might be happy and would be confident as their future is assured by having a son. But I am a daughter. I complete all the household tasks, go to school, again do the household activities in the evening, and at night only I do my school homework and I study. Despite all the activities, my parents do not give value or recognition to me. They only have praise for my brother, as he is the son. (15-year-old girl from Nepal)

I have this privilege to go university. I fight so that all my sisters are able to go to school, not only in Mali, but throughout the world. We know that we girls are the ones to end poverty. (Djénébou Diallo, Girls Gone Activist! How to Change the World through Education)


Read One Girl’s Opinion


Worldwide, girls constitute over half of the children out of school. Only 30 percent of all girls are enrolled in secondary school. In many countries, less than one third of university students are women. The average sub-Saharan African girl from a low-income, rural household gets less than two years of schooling and never learns to read and write, to add and subtract, as opposed to the average sub-Saharan African boy who fully completes primary education.

The false view persists in many cultures that it is more beneficial to send the son to school because sons will stay in the family, whereas girls leave the family to join her husband’s family after she gets married. This reinforces gender stereotypes that a women’s place is in the home taking care of children, cooking, cleaning and doing other unpaid work.

In more than 100 countries, school is not free and many parents cannot afford the tuition or the cost of uniforms.

Faced with social and economic barriers, parents often chose to invest in their son’s, and not their daughter’s, education. Unsafe travel over long distances to and from school and the lack of separate latrines (outdoor toilets) for girls are other reasons why millions of girls are forced to stay out of school and denied an education. These factors also explain why girls drop out at much higher rates and at earlier ages, sometimes only completing two years of school; compared to a boy who is more likely to make it to secondary school and beyond.

The high rate of child marriage in many countries means many girls never have the opportunity to go to school or are forced to drop out of school at a young age.

Education is crucial for the empowerment and emancipation of girls and women, and the realization of all other human rights. Educating a girl has a transformational effect that changes communities and societies:

  • Education empowers girls by introducing new ways of thinking about traditions and issues, and challenges traditionally held gender roles.
  • Education helps a girl to respect herself and to be respected by others.
  • Education drastically reduces child marriage. On average, a girl with 7 years of education will marry 4 years later and have 2.2 fewer children.
  • A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.
  • Knowledge and skills learned at school will be passed onto her parents and the community.
  • Education is essential for a strong economy. One extra year of school boosts a girl’s future wages by 10-20 percent.
  • Children born to educated mothers are two times more likely to survive past the age of 5.
  • Education fosters critical thinking skills, which are essential for effective leaders and democracy. More women are needed to solve global problems!

What is being done so far to promote girls’ education?

In 2000, the United States and 163 other countries signed the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Declaration, with the target of ending global poverty by 2015. MDGs 2 and 3 commit signing countries to ensuring that by 2015, every boy and girl will be able to complete primary school, and to eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education.

School Girls Unite in the U.S. and our sister organization in Mali wrote a 120-page bilingual action guide about why the key to a better world lies in educating girls. Girls Gone Activist! How to Change the World through Education is available as a free e-book.

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Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) has been a longtime champion of the legislation called the Education For All Act, which would keep the U.S.’s promise to help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of universal basic education and gender equality through secondary school by the year 2015. Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA), the other lead sponsor of the bill says “Humanity is capable of great things if we can achieve this goal…Amid violence, strife, and poverty, education is an equalizing force.”

Lawmakers in Congress rarely hear from anyone–including students in the U.S. who are guaranteed a free education–who are outraged that millions of girls around the world are denied an education. Take a minute to see if your U.S. Representative is a co-sponsor of this legislation. If he or she is a co-sponsor, write a letter thanking them for their leadership in promoting education. If not, write a letter on a fake graduation diploma asking them to “co-sponsor” the Education For All Act– we want to get 100 House lawmakers to sign on to this bill! Use these facts to make a persuasive case as to why the U.S. should invest in universal education. U.S. support is essential to get closer to the MDGs by the year 2015. Education can make the world a better place, not just for girls, but for everyone.