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6 months ago

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Sending girls to school: it’s personal and it’s important

I have a 5-year-old daughter and I love her. We play together, I spoil her, and she’s my princess. I love to watch her bring home her schoolwork and impress me with her progress. She is keen and alert at school and enjoys the learning environment.

I’m grateful that she has the opportunity to make friends, interact with kids her age, and learn in a safe, encouraging setting. It’s a privilege, but it should be a right.

Unfortunately, education for girls is not something enjoyed equally throughout the world. As a matter of fact, according to the World Bank, more than 31 million girls across the world are not in school. Of the estimated 61 million total children not in school, 75% live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

It is no coincidence that in areas where education for girls is lacking or non-existent, there is an increase of sexual trafficking, rape, FGM, sexual abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases, most especially HIV/AIDS.

Educated women are less likely to die in childbirth, are more likely to be involved in government and politics, and – not surprisingly – are more likely to send their children to school. Girls who make it through secondary school see an average increase in future wages of 18%, compared to 14% for their male counterparts.

Our schools in Uganda are equal opportunity schools for girls and boys, and many of the schools we support in India are girls’ schools. Still, the statistics are alarming.

In Uganda, just one third of the girls who enrolled in primary school were still enrolled at the age of 18, compared with half of the boys, according to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey.

Of the 26 million children born in India every year, approximately 1.83 million children die before their fifth birthday. If all women had completed secondary education, the under-five mortality rate could have been 61% lower.

Other than the fact that such statistics should make us cringe, why, exactly, does this matter to you and me? Why should we care?

The lack of education for girls is directly linked to the economic future of these regions. According to the World Bank, every 1% increase in the proportion of women with secondary education boosts a country’s annual per capita income growth rate by about 0.3%. An entire nation benefits when a girl goes to school.

The economic boost moves these countries away from poverty, which in turn moves these regions away from violence and extremism. It’s not a stretch to say that universal education for girls can help prevent conditions associated with turmoil – lack of resources, misunderstanding, prejudice – from developing into full-blown conflict.

This is the first time the Coexist Campaign has addressed this issue, but I can assure you that it won’t be the last. You’ll be hearing more from us about making education universal and the amazing organizations we’re working with to make that possible.

Could teaching a girl really be that impactful? I think that a young girl from the Swat District of Pakistan has proven that it can.

Tarek Elgawhary is the CEO of the Coexist Foundation.

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