We will, she will: the tagline chosen for the Girls’ Education Forum. It’s positive, empowering and speaks with an effective simplicity that we are often guilty of overlooking. Who will be the person to advance themselves, their society and their country? She Will. But without equity in accessing education then those advancements will stagnate. The message is simple, but the message from the Girls’ Education Forum was loud and clear. We need action. 

At the time of writing, more girls and young women are in school globally than at any time before. This has happened because of generations of struggle to change attitudes to the role of gender in society and to transform that change in attitude into a change in policy. But everyone who is conscious of these issues knows that we are not at a position where there is any real form of parity between genders. Education provides a microcosm of this. As the Education for All Gender Summary shows, ‘fewer than half of countries will have achieved … gender parity in primary and secondary education’ by the end of last year. In total, 63 million girls are out of school globally.

Through the Global Goals, world governments have agreed to this important target of Global Goal 4: ‘By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education’. The UK Government continues to show leadership on delivering this target announcing £100 million through the Girls’ Education Challenge to reach 175,000 girls in some of the poorest regions of the world. This is the kind of action we need. Words about change matched with pledges which can finance that change. Anyone watching the (now former) Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, announce this could not doubt for a second her sincerity. Her stewardship of DFID has seen the department place women and girls at the heart of development. They have done this because it matters. You cannot have holistic, global development when one gender reaps a higher proportion of the associated rewards.

Justine Greening speaks at the Girl’s Education Forum in London. Photo: DFID

The Statement of Action is bold in its policy awareness. We need to bring in marginalised girls and not tackle the easier option of those who are simpler to reach. We must have targeted financing for marginalised girls, and not assume the job is done through generic funding. We have to close the data gap so we can understand the issues better and make policy which is better suited to the nuanced needs of populations – whether that is gender based or not. And we have to reduce the barriers for marginalised girls. There are many and often woven into societal attitudes, but they must be overcome. Early or forced marriage, sexual and gender-based violence and access to WASH facilities during menstruation are just a few examples of what we need to address to achieve gender parity.

At the forum, Children Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) announced US$17 million ‘to strengthen the education of adolescent girls in developing countries’. This follows on from GPE’s new gender equality strategy to mainstream gender equality in education. As the key multilateral, GPE’s clarity on its positioning of gender equality is of paramount importance and will transform the lives of women and girls across the world.

So we have action underway. Action to achieve equality and action to achieve a real difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest. Action which will mean something. But this alone won’t solve the problem, and real global development won’t be realised without this problem being solved.  As Julia Gillard, Board Chair of GPE, summarised, ‘Investing in girls and women isn’t just morally right: it is essential for the development of families, communities and countries. When we educate girls, we see reduced child deaths, healthier children and mothers, fewer child marriages and faster economic growth.’ Or, in short, investing in women and girls equates to investing in everyone. Investing so that we will, I will, he will, they will. She will.