International Women’s Day: Step It Up for Girls’ Education

Today we proudly observe International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day first emerged from the labor movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and Europe. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to celebrate women’s rights and world peace by proclaiming March 8 as International Women’s Day. Since those early years, the day has become a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

The United Nation’s 2016 International Women’s Day theme, “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” focuses on how to advance the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda is a plan of action to eradicate global poverty, preserve the planet’s natural resources, ensure prosperous societies, foster peace and justice, and strengthen global solidarity. This plan contains several goals that are aligned with the missions of NCGS and Girl Up, the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl empowerment campaign, including:

  • Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
  • Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Educating girls transforms lives, families, communities, and entire countries. Globally, more than 62 million girls, half of them adolescents, are not in school. Millions more are fighting to stay there. Access to education for women and girls, like gender equality, is not only a fundamental human right, it is also a means of achieving a peaceful, prosperous world that helps fuel sustainable economies and societies. When girls are educated, they lead healthier and more productive lives. They gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence to break the cycle of poverty and help strengthen their communities. And educated girls are also more likely to educate their future daughters.

As the leading advocate for girls’ schools, NCGS connects and collaborates globally with individuals, schools, and organizations dedicated to educating and empowering girls. Girl Up empowers and mobilizes girls around the world to take action by raising awareness and funds to help girls living in places where it is hardest to be a girl. NCGS and Girl Up know it is vital to the continued health of girls’ education that we engage the power of many voices to strengthen our schools, communities, and world. We – educators, students, parents, alumnae, advocates – can help inspire the next generation of girls and women not just within our existing girls’ schools, but around the globe to lead with courage, competence, and empathy.

Progress has been made towards increasing access to education and enrollment rates in schools, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals. While the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education. Consider the different ways that girls’ rights to education are cut short around the world:

  • Only 32% of constitutions protect girls’ rights to attend secondary school. While 71% of national constitutions protect girls’ access to primary education, few countries protect their rights to attend secondary education.
  • In many countries, more than half of girls drop out before they reach the 6th grade.
  • Gender bias, cultural norms, and economic backgrounds can hinder girls from completing even the most basic level of schooling, regardless of the policy protections in place.
  • Girls from low-income families receive the least schooling. Particularly in Middle Eastern and African countries, girls from low-income families complete primary school at disproportionately low levels.
  • In many developing countries a prohibitively long – and unsafe – distance between home and school prevents girls in rural areas from completing their education, and girls in urban areas face social isolation and are more likely to be confined to the home.

For girls in developing countries, going to school can be more than just an opportunity to be educated – it can mean financial security, staying healthy and safe, and the possibility of getting a job that otherwise would not be possible.

Girl Up works closely with its partners at the United Nations to make sure adolescent girls have access to quality education and the opportunity to complete their schooling through high school. Providing a girl with an education means:

  • She is healthier – an educated girl is more likely to seek healthcare for herself and her family, and marry at an adult age.
  • She is economically powerful – an educated girl will earn more money, reinvest 80-90% of her wages back into her family and community helping to break the cycle of poverty.
  • She is poised to be a leader – an educated girl will be more involved in her community, more prepared for decision-making, and more confident in her own abilities.

The positive impact of girls’ education has been shown to transcend generations, resulting in better health outcomes among women, their children, and eventually, their grandchildren. Working together, the girls’ school community, strengthened by mission-aligned partners like Girl Up, can help prepare girls and women around the globe for lives of confidence, contribution, and fulfillment. If we are going to transform girls’ lives around the world, we need to advocate for girls’ education and gender equality not just annually on March 8, but 365 days a year.


Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) and Melissa Hillebrenner Kilby, Director, Girl Up

Data sources: Let Girls LearnNo Ceilings: The Full Participation ProjectGirl Up, and United Nations