LOS ANGELES, California — On September 1, 2008, Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and activist for girls’ education, famously gave her first speech at age 11. Titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?,” Yousafzai demanded access to education in response to nationwide edicts in Pakistan to restrict education for girls. After writing blog posts for the BBC online while living under Taliban rule and surviving an attempted assassination, Yousafzai states that she tells her story, not because of its uniqueness, but because it is the experience of many girls throughout the world. “I am not one voice. I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education,” stated Yousafzai when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. The echo of Yousafzai’s call to provide education for girls in conflict areas resounds today. Girls living in conflict areas “are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries,” according to UNICEF.
Girls Suffer Disproportionately in Conflict
For the 2022 fiscal year, the United States House Appropriations Committee announced in June 2021 the allocation of $150 million to support girls’ education in conflict areas.
Whether or not girls receive access to education depends on many factors, such as situations of poverty, violence and lacking educational infrastructure. According to the World Bank, young girls in situations of poverty lack resources to afford education and the expense of school supplies and other secondary costs of education. Additionally, the World Bank states that girls often must walk long distances to attend school, leaving young girls more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence. Exposure to violence while attending school increases dropout rates and lowers education attendance for young girls.
Additionally, the World Bank predicts that COVID-19 will negatively impact girls’ education. During the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016 in West Africa, young girls experienced higher rates of gender-based violence as well as teenage pregnancies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, young girls are expected to experience similar hardships upon school closures as well as higher poverty rates. In light of COVID-19, UNESCO predicts that more than 11 million girls may not return to a classroom following the global pandemic, in addition to “the 130 million girls who are already out of school.”
Role of Girls’ Education in Poverty Alleviation
According to Justice Rising, an international organization advocating for girls’ access to education, girls in conflict zones are “90% more likely to be out of secondary school” due to external challenges, such as poverty and violence. However, providing girls with education prevents child marriages, decreases infant mortality, protects girls from sex trafficking and positively impacts global economies. In conflict-ridden areas, these issues are widespread, thus, in these locations, girls’ education is even more imperative.
Justice Rising reports that in areas where girls attend school for “seven or more years,” a girl’s date of marriage is postponed by four years, allowing more time for girls to continue their education even further. Additionally, a World Bank study of about 100 nations indicates that “every 1% increase in women with secondary education boosted a country’s annual per capita income growth rate by 0.3 percentage points.”
US Support in 2022 Fiscal Year
According to UNESCO, landmark agreements such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action allowed for 180 million girls to attend school in the past 25 years across 189 countries. Despite progress toward providing education for girls, COVID-19 caused greater hardships for girls around the world, especially those who live in areas of conflict. In light of the pandemic, about 66% of low and lower-middle-income nations reduced their education expenditure due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
With disproportionate impacts to young girls seeking an education during global conflict, $150 million of the U.S. fiscal budget aims to positively impact millions of girls without access to education, also providing for the greater safety of women with regard to gender-based violence while bolstering global economies. By funding girls’ education in areas of conflict in the 2022 fiscal budget, the United States supports young girls throughout the world who experience threats to their education. As this issue continues to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic, these allocations empower young girls to receive an education in times of conflict and rise out of poverty.
– Amanda Frese