It was a personal goal of mine this year to, and I quote this directly from my Bullet Journal knowing full well how insufferable it sounds trust me… “study something good.” I’m sorry past me but what in the world does that even mean!?
What a w***er …
Anyway because of that rather vague and abstract goal (that in my defence I didn’t think anyone besides myself would actually ever read) and the unexpected amount of free time I was presented with back in April, I decided to study an online course from Stanford University titled International Women’s Health and Human Rights. It was never something I thought I would be sharing here on my blog but given that today is International Day of the Girl I wanted to share one of my essays I wrote for the course on the education of girls and how it relates to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This is not an exact word for word copy of my final essay as the style of writing I usually go for on my blog is a lot different to my essay writing style. I have also added a few extra quotes and links to information that either didn’t exist when I wrote my original essay back in April or just didn’t fit into the flow of my essay but work well in this format.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a set of seventeen interconnected goals that were created to act as “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”.1 Each of these goals focuses on challenges that we all face in our society from poverty to climate change, inequality to peace and justice. For them to be successful and inclusive the UN has stated that they must all be achieved by the year 2030.2 You can read about all of them here but for the purposes of this post I am going to be focusing on just a few and how they are related to education and The International Day of the Girl.
The most obvious of the Sustainable Development Goals when we are talking in the context of the education of girls is Goal 4: Quality Education but that does not mean it should be overlooked. While great strides have been made in the case of equality in education between boys and girls it still has a long way to go.
“About one-third of countries in the developing regions have not achieved gender parity in primary education.”3United Nations
This goal is focused on the quality of education for all children but it cannot be ignored that the number of girls that drop out of school early vastly outweighs the number of boys. In fact while 750 million adults around the world are illiterate (2016), two thirds of that number are women.4 It is not enough to just get girls enrolled in primary school, the support and structure needs to be provided throughout the school career from primary to secondary and above to encourage girls to stay in education and allow them to develop transferable skills. Goal 5: Gender Equality, goes on to explain the importance of education for girls; “Disadvantages in education translate into lack of access to skills and limited opportunities in the labour market.”5 In fact it is clear that without the unpaid work of women many households and even societies would not be able to function in the ways they should;
“One day in 1975 in Iceland, society ceased to function. The amount of labour performed, both in and out of the home, dropped precipitously. The reason? Every woman in the country took a day off of all types of work, paid or unpaid. As a result, the people of Iceland at least would not forget the value of women’s work.”6Anne Firth Murray
So, as you can see there are two goals that directly relate to the education of girls and the inequality they face in the current systems but as I mentioned before, the UN states that these goals all intersect. From this you could argue that all remaining 15 Sustainable Development Goals, that I have yet to mention are impacted by the education of girls. There are some goals however that will be more directly impacted than others depending on whether or not we educate girls; “If you had education, and if you are a women and you’ve had education and you stay in school into secondary school . . . you have fewer children, healthier children, your children, you yourself are healthier. There’s links to income. There’s evidence that shows lower rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence for girls who’ve gone to school.”7 This quote is from Lynn Murphy in a video discussion entitled “Learning vs. Schooling” available to those on the course and it touches on points and targets made in the first three Sustainable Development Goals: No Poverty, Zero Hunger and Good Health and Well-being.
Professor Wu Qing, a Chinese feminist activist, explains in one of the video lectures provided on the course how the education of girls in her country has directly affected their financial status. Educated women in China will often choose to open their own business for several reasons, including the fact that they simply prefer to work for themselves, “then they will employ women” Professor Wu Qing affirms. This allows women to become financially independent or to bring in a second source of income to the family and so breaks the cycle of poverty.
When the cycle of poverty is broken we begin to see the Sustainable Development Goal, Zero Hunger begin to be impacted. The unfortunate fact of the matter is we are not on course to achieve Zero Hunger in the world by 2030. “If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger would surpass 840 million by 2030.”8 There are currently 135 million people in the world suffering from acute hunger, the cause of which is largely man-made conflict, climate change and economic downturns according to the World Food Organisation.9 The education of girls leads to better employment opportunities as well as fewer children per family and in turn more disposable income and less mouths to feed. Better educated women and girls also means that they have the knowledge and confidence to demand their equal share, the UN explains that “If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.”10 This is a startling figure but if a girl or woman has been treated as equal to boys and men her whole life she will not stand for inequality later in life and therefore this reduction in world hunger can be easily achieved.
Women have played a disproportionate role in the current Covid19 response as frontline healthcare workers and care home workers. They are also more likely to be at financial risk during this time as nearly 60 percent of women are workers within the informal economy.11 These stressful situations are having negative effects on women’s mental and physical health. Good Health and Well-being is impacted by the decision of whether or not to educate girls; for example, it has been proven that the education of girls leads to lower rates of HIV/AIDS and is often referred to as “the social vaccine against HIV/AIDS” because of how significantly it impacts the chances of women and girls who are better educated contracting the disease.12 When women and girls receive equal education they become better equipped to manage their own health, they understand how diseases such as HIV/AIDS are contracted and can take steps to prevent it’s transmission.
Before Covid19 the world had been making great progress in “improving the health of millions of people”13; we were seeing greater life expectancies and rates of child and maternal mortality were falling.14 While this is the way forward and will ultimately lead to a better world, the birth rate has yet to level to catch up with these improvements in our health care. This has led to a growth in population, the rates of which we have never seen. In David Attenborough’s latest documentary (if you haven’t watched it yet get yourself over to Netflix right now, it is so important!) he talks about population growth and how this is directly impacting the current climate crisis. He explains in “A Life on Our Planet” that the sooner the population of the world hits its peak the easier it will be to implement the other changes he outlines within the documentary and “by enabling girls in particular to stay in school as long as possible, we can make it peak and at a lower level.”15 The fact that education of girls reduces population growth is not news either; a study conducted in 2011 made an estimate that if every country committed to the “100 percent enrolment of girls and boys at the primary and secondary levels, there would be 843 million fewer people in the world by 2050.”16
The education of girls is important, it’s 2020 and I still have to say it which is honestly not good enough. The UN International Day of the Girl runs under a theme each year, this year the theme is “My voice, our equal future”. The Day of the Girl is a day to champion for girls’ rights to education and these rights are proven necessities by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are for everyone, every government and every country, and the education of girls directly correlates to their success. If they can be met by 2030 we are looking at not only a better life for women and girls, boys and men around the world but we will also stand a chance in our battle against the climate crisis that we ourselves created.
6 “From Outrage to Courage” by Ann Firth Murray, page 193
7 “Learning vs Schooling” International Women’s Health and Human Rights Stanford University
12 “What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment” Gene B. Sperling and Rebecca Winthrop With Christina Kwauk page 18
15 “A Life on Our Planet” David Attenborough, Netflix Documentary
16 “What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment” Gene B. Sperling and Rebecca Winthrop With Christina Kwauk page 35