63 million girls are currently denied access to education

Helen Griffiths at Human Rights Watch says hashtag solidarity with women and girls is nice, but what’s needed is action.

Last weekend, I attended a Women of the World event in Cambridge, England, where experts from several sectors discussed what exactly is preventing girls from getting into and staying in school. They agreed that numerous factors play a role, including early marriage, pregnancy, disabilities, lack of accommodation for menstrual hygiene, cultural beliefs, and traditional caregiver roles.

These barriers are not new.

And what do they all rest on? The material reality of being female – of being the sex that gets pregnant, that bears the children, that lactates. (The disabilities part is the exception – either sex can be disabled in a variety of ways.)

Nor is this a new debate. Some 63 million girls are currently denied access to education, their birthright, and there has been little change in the gender gap in recent years. Girls remain twice as likely as boys to be out of school. Almost 16 million girls alive today and aged 6 to 11 will never go to school if current trends persist. Current government policies are already failing another generation of girls. Yet, as one panelist reminded us, this is the generation that, if educated and empowered, could end child marriage for their own daughters.

There are international laws that oblige states to implement the right to education, but of course international laws are not easily enforced.

The recurring message from panelists was that, despite the range of barriers, political will to implement the legal framework and support from nongovernmental groups can see this right made reality.

We’ve been saying that girls need access to education for decades. After another week of talk about girls’ rights and calls for change, we need to see concrete action, including concerning the allocation of resources and development of specific plans, policies, and timelines. It’s time to help those 63 million girls regain their birthright and to secure it for those who are coming next.

That would make a good change.

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