International Day of the Girl 2021 celebrates ‘digital generation’. RESULTS UK applauds the many landmark declarations that have paved the way for recognition of girls’ education as both a fundamental human right and a catalyst for sustainable development. From the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG 4 on inclusive, equitable quality education and lifelong learning), commendable efforts have been made. Yet despite the progress that has been made in the last three decades, it remains true that access to education cannot be the end of our collective aspirations for a generation that strives for equality in all its dimensions. We must also take a moment to pause to reflect on the disproportionality of the impact of COVID-19.

The History of the International Day of the Girl

In 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action became a landmark moment which asserted that ‘women’s rights are human rights.’ The belief that women and the human rights agenda cannot be separated became the most progressive blueprint for the advancement of women and girls’ rights. In recognition of the need to make progress on girls’ rights, in December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to affirm 11 October as International Day of the Girl.

Since then, various themes have marked this occasion to highlight the unique challenges girls around the world face in their quest for recognition and equality. It also brings into sharp focus how the international community can both celebrate and empower girls in the fulfilment of their human rights. This day reaffirms that girls have the right to be safe, educated and to receive good healthcare throughout their lives. If girls gain crucial foundational skills in literacy and numeracy during pre-primary and primary school, and their continued learning is supported throughout their adolescent years, then they will have the capacity to change the world as the political, community, academic and business leaders of tomorrow. As women make up half of humanity, an investment in the realisation of their human rights today promises a more equitable and prosperous future for all, in which girls and women have the capability to solve problems of political turmoil, economic growth, disease prevention, climate change and global sustainability.

Two girls in their uniforms outside their primary school in Malawi
Two girls in their uniforms outside their school in Malawi. Picture credit: GPE / Tara O’Connell. 

‘Generation digital’ has created a global movement to dismantle bias and create a world that is relevant for future generations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comprises of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which represent a roadmap for sustainable progress, ensuring that we leave no one behind. It includes achieving gender equality (Goal 5) and asserts that only by ensuring the rights of women and girls across all the goals can we achieve global justice, inclusion, economies that work for all, and a greener environment. On 11 October every year, the global community celebrates girls breaking the boundaries and barriers of exclusion and stereotypes in order to reach the SDGs.

The learning crisis

Girls across the globe face multiple and reinforcing barriers that hinder their opportunities to access quality education, simply because of their gender. In many low and middle-income countries, factors such as disability and ethnicity accentuate the pre-existing challenges that girls face. The denial of an education can cause a myriad of life altering consequences, including increased risk of child marriage and gender-based violence, preventing girls from fulfilling their true potential.

The right to a quality education is a basic and fundamental human right that contributes to the effective functioning of communities and families. But just going to school is not enough to ensure that learners receive a quality education that provides the foundational literacy and numeracy skills needed to face the challenges they will find outside the classroom. Globally, 60 % of children are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics whilst in low-income countries 9 in 10 children cannot read and understand a simple story at the age of 10, a marker which the World Bank uses to define ‘learning poverty’. 

The Digital gender gap

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the lives of people across the globe, including the way we connect with one another, and the platforms we use for learning. Accordingly, the pandemic has highlighted how the advancement of technology will create additional challenges in the Global South. UNICEF research has confirmed that some 2.2 billion students do not have access to the internet at home. The study also shows that girls are more likely to face challenges from a lack of connectivity and access have to the internet. 

However, the gender digital divide has affected far more than girls’ ability to stay connected and use educational platforms. Girls are less likely than boys to own electronic devices and consequently to gain tech-related skills and eventually jobs. As the digital revolution continues, we must ensure that there is digital equality for all. Only by addressing such inequalities in the education system and societal exclusions can we usher in a digital revolution for all, with all.

Where next?

The international community has less than 10 years to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. Consequently, governments, activists, youth and civil society must work together to achieve universal literacy and numeracy, which will unlock the power to fulfil all of the other 16 goals. This will also be necessary to enable future generations to respond to other crises such climate change. Perhaps the children who are educated today will facilitate the answers to world peace, gender equality, green environments, and economic inclusion. Only when we are all given an equal chance to a quality education, leaving no one behind, we can all become stakeholders in society and eradicate the big problems of our generation cooperatively.