Girls’ education: Facts and how to help

Updated Jul 20, 2023


A girl’s education is an investment in her future. It’s also an investment in the future of our world – a thriving, peaceful and sustainable world. Education is a powerful tool in developing the full potential of every child, but it also helps promote understanding, respect and friendship between nations, peoples and religious groups.

For all children, but especially for girls, education provides stability for today and opportunities for tomorrow. Learn more about the importance of female education and how you can help protect girls’ education rights.

  1. Is education a human right?
  2. How many girls don't go to school?
  3. What is keeping girls out of school?
  4. Why is it important to educate a girl?
  5. What is World Vision doing to help?
  6. What can I do to help keep girls in school?
  7. Inspiring stories about girls’ education
  Two school girls in uniforms are seated at a school-wide assembly. They are smiling as they listen attentively.

To honor June, which is the Month of the Child and the Day of the African Child, World Vision had a school outreach in Mbabane, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland).

The Day of the African Child theme for 2023 is “The Right of the Child in the Digital Environment”, which focuses on the right to non-discrimination, that requires the government to ensure that all children have equal and effective access to the digital environment in ways that are meaningful for them, including in education. Photo: Neliswa Simelane

1. Is education a human right?

No matter who you are or where you live, you have a fundamental human right to education. It’s protected in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Every young boy and girl is entitled to full and complete access to quality education. But many of the world’s poorest children continue to be denied this basic human right.

2. How many girls don't go to school?

According to UNESCO, there are an estimated 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 out of school.Those from the poorest families are more likely to be out of school than their peers from more affluent communities.

Help educate girls

A young girl in a rural area fills two large buckets with water from a well.

For Aisha, getting to school on time is a daily struggle. She is almost always late because she has to wake up early every morning and walk 25 minutes to and from her area's water source. She tries her best to return by sunrise to make it to school, but it is extremely difficult. Photo: Fyson Masina

3. What is keeping girls out of school?

There are many obstacles standing in the way of girls’ education. Poverty exacerbates issues like famine and drought, health and sanitation, cultural norms and practices, among others – all which collide to form insurmountable barriers to girls’ education.

Famine and drought

Food and water shortages are not a new phenomenon by any means, but they have become so severe in recent years that many developing countries have declared states of disaster. Women and children are responsible for water collection in 71 per cent of sub-Saharan households without drinking water. Girls are now spending more time walking longer distances to retrieve water for their families – water that is often contaminated or unsanitary. She might be too tired or hungry to concentrate in school, or too sick from water-borne diseases to attend class at all.

Health and sanitation

While lack of hygiene and sanitation affects all school-aged children, inadequate facilities are most detrimental to girls. Many schools have unsafe latrines or unsanitary water supplies, making it impossible for girls to remain in school when they begin to menstruate. The shortage of safe, separate and private sanitation and washing facilities is one of the leading factors preventing girls from attending school.

Cultural norms and practices

Girls are often prevented from attending school even when they’re eager to do so. Many families and cultures tend to favor education for boys. Parents and community leaders may not see the value in educating a girl, believing it to be unnecessary for her primary roles in life as a wife and mother.

Even for those girls who do start school, cultural practices like child marriage can bring their education to an abrupt halt. Many are forced to drop out in order to focus on domestic responsibilities or to raise children of their own. The numbers show that girls who aren’t in school face a greater risk of becoming child brides: Girls who have no education are three times more likely to marry before 18 than girls who attended secondary school or higher.

Impoverished families often have no choice but to resort to child labor to survive. Many of these children are “invisible,” out of sight and out of the reach of the laws that protect them. Girls involved in family care or domestic work are perhaps the most invisible of all. There is evidence to suggest that girls make up the majority of child labourers around the world – spending long days in harsh working conditions rather than in a classroom, where she belongs.

Distance and cost

Physical access to a classroom can be in itself a challenge. In many parts of the developing world, the nearest primary school to a particular community, the walking distance could up anywhere from 1 to 5 hours away. Many parents worry about their children having to travel long distances on their own to get to school. Girls are particularly vulnerable, risking danger, violence and abuse just to get into a classroom.

Although primary education should be free, there are often associated costs that prove too heavy a burden for struggling families to bear. Be it textbooks, school fees, uniforms or transportation – when a family has more than one child to raise, girls often lose out to their brothers.

Crisis and conflict

War and violence often bring an abrupt end to education opportunities for all children, but girls are particularly vulnerable during times of social or political crises. Many families sustain insurmountable losses in natural disasters or epidemics, after which the need for education pales in comparison to simple survival. A quarter of all out-of-school children around the world live in crises-affected countries.

A woman and young girl are seated in a children’s space, coloring in a book together.

With support from World Vision, the Scout National Orthodox provided more than 200 children at a child-friendly space in Tripoli, Lebanon with child protection sessions, fun activities and positive parenting sessions in the hope to influence positive social norms for child well-being. Photo: George Mghames

4. Why is it important to educate a girl?

Education, for any child, can open the doors to a brighter future that would otherwise be locked tight. But it isn’t just about the future – children who stay in school are better protected from exploitation in the present. When girls have access to education, they develop the knowledge, confidence and life skills necessary to navigate and adapt to an ever-changing world.

Breaking the cycle of poverty

The education of girls not only helps them achieve their individual potential, but also helps to break intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage. When a girl stays in school, she increases her income earning potential and her future is immediately brighter. Education empowers her to build a better life for herself, contributing to the health, safety and prosperity of her family and community. In fact, ensuring all girls are finishing secondary school education by 2030 could boost the gross domestic product (GDP) of developing countries by 10% on average over the next decade.

Improved health

Studies have shown the positive impact that education of girls has on their overall health and wellbeing. Increasing a girl’s access to education decreases her risk of contracting HIV and improves future child and maternal health. A woman who receives formal education is more likely than an uneducated woman to use contraception, marry later, have fewer children, and be better informed on the nutritional needs of her children.

Learning to lead

School is the place where children first learn to exercise their agency and make their voices heard. Without access to education, girls are denied the opportunity to learn the skills that enable them to take charge – not only in their own homes, careers and lives – but also in their community and their country. They can more effectively teach their own children, which will help lift an entire generation. When we educate girls, we give them the chance to step up and realize their fullest leadership potential.

Students dressed in uniforms stand outside to wash their hands at a World Vision Water, Sanitation and Hygiene station outside of their school.

In Chikreng area project, Cambodia, many schools lack quality education facilities and school materials, which means children often face learning challenges. In 2014, World Vision partnered with this school to improve the learning environment for children by renovating the library, donating new reading material, providing new handwashing stations and partnering with the education departments to provide capacity building training for teachers. Photo: Ben Adams

5. What is World Vision doing to help?

Wherever we work, we work to champion the rights of girls. We partner with families and entire communities – men, women, boys and girls – to help them understand a girl’s worth and why her rights must be protected. In particular, we help them understand the importance of supporting girls’ education rights.

We work to improve school facilities in developing countries around the world. By ensuring access to clean water and installing safe, private and separate latrines for girls near school buildings, we help keep children safe while they’re learning and encourage their continued attendance. By supplying furniture, textbooks, supplies and nutritious meals, children are better able to stay engaged and focused in the classroom.

Our work with local and international education ministries ensures that teachers have the tools they need to improve their classroom environments. By creating locally relevant and age-appropriate learning materials, children can learn what they need to know in their native language. And by collaborating with other experienced organizations in the field, we’re able to reach more broadly to help implement successful education initiatives in the countries where we work.

Young school girls dressed in Hijab’s smile at each other as they work at their desks.

Education protects children from violent activities in Lamu, Kenya. Photo: Martin Muluka

6. What can I do to help keep girls in school?

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have a target to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030. We’ve made progress, but as many as 48 per cent of girls continue to remain out of school in some regions. As kids enter adolescence, higher numbers of girls drop out of secondary school from early pregnancy or the expectation that they should spend more of their time doing household work.

You can help keep girls in school by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice that many families face. When you sponsor a girl, you help provide basic necessities like nutritious food, clean water, access to education and health care. For families with girls, sponsorship helps ensure they are protected from child labour or early marriage – and that they stay in the classroom.

You can also help support education initiatives directly by helping to supply classrooms, provide nutritious school meals or supply textbooks for children. Learn more about how you can support girls’ education by exploring the World Vision Gift Catalogue.

7. Inspiring stories about girls’ education

Tasya leads children’s forum in her community

A student seated in a classroom desk smiles as she raises her hand.

Tasya, a student in Indonesia, leads the Child Forum in her community, bringing awareness about children’s rights and fighting against child marriage Photo: Ben Adams

In 2022, World Vision launched a child protection project in Sigi, Indonesia. Channels of Hope trains leaders in child protection, gender studies, positive parenting, the risks of child marriage and sexual violence. These sessions help train leaders to challenge damaging social norms and create a strong community network to protect children, especially girls.

Tasya is the leader of The Child Forum in her community. The Child Forum was created to bring together boys and girls in the area and raise awareness about children’s rights and fight child marriage. As a leader, Tasya helps organize community education sessions and events. using the groups own social media content to spread the word. They’ve conducted research among their peers to explore and record their peers’ ideas and attitudes about child marriage, as well as identify any potential cases.

Working through community volunteers, more than 30 cases of child marriage in Sipado area project have been reported to World Vision in the last year. These cases are then referred to government support services, who engage with the family to connect them with services like emergency income support for families in financial distress, or health services for girls who are pregnant.

The group also invites government health services to come to their community and host information sessions for young people to learn about their bodies, reproductive health, and how to prevent pregnancy. Tasya is proud of her role in prioritizing education for girls in her community. As a result, the mindsets of many are being positively shifted and fewer girls are falling into child marriages.

Wipada follows her dreams and becomes a teacher

A teacher stands in front of a computer lab, leading a class. Her arms are folded as she smiles with excitement.

Wipada, Thailand. Photo: Patinya Khobchai

“At every milestone, my teachers were there to encourage, care, and set good role models for me. They were heroes to me. I was so inspired by my teachers and their profession that I aimed to be a teacher too when I grew up. I wanted children to thrive and become educated, happy, and decent citizens, just like the way my teachers supported me,” says Wipada, or Tar, a former sponsored child of World Vision Thailand.

People have their own path to walk with different pace and opportunities. While some are equipped with abundant developmental assets, others live in poverty. Tar belonged to the latter group.

“I was in Grade 2 when my homeroom teacher brought the good news that I was being sponsored through World Vision. I received school supplies, educational necessities support, and even got a birthday present from my sponsor almost every year. My family also received livelihood support such as oyster mushroom growing and chicken raising,” says Tar with overwhelming gratefulness when she recalls her past.

Through hard work and perseverance, Tar was able to graduate high school and decided to follow her dream of pursuing higher education. Now, Tar is a computer teacher at a local school and hopes to later become a public teacher.

“Thank you to my sponsor and all of my teachers for your continued support until my graduation. They were the reason that drove me to study at the higher education level until I graduated like I had dreamt of,” she says.

“I will be a good teacher. I have seen many students facing the same hardship I have been through. I promise to myself that, if I have a chance, I will pass on help to these children, just like how I was helped before so that they will have opportunities and improved quality of life.”

Dina makes a difference as a youth leader & activist

A young woman dressed in blue sits outside at a picknick table drawing.

Dina, 19, with her artwork -- her prized possession. Photo: Jon Warren

Dina was first involved in World Vision (WV) when she was around the age of seven. She became a peer tutor in Yamaranguila AP, Honduras as soon as she could, helping other children study and learn through play. She has had lots of opportunities through WV to travel and teach about health, sanitation, and the importance of education.

“I believe youth are not the future – we are the present. If we want change, it needs to start within us,” she says.

Dina lived with her grandparents until she was 15, then moved to where her mother was working to continue her education. She graduated from secondary school and is now in college studying public accounting.

Dina is passionate about raising awareness in her community on children’s rights and does so as a youth leader. She is passionate about education and believes that, with the right tools, children can accomplish even their wildest dreams.

Edited by Anita Latzoo

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