Special Focus on Empowering Women
Special Focus: When Women Thrive the World Prospers

On International Women's Day, leading voices from around the world call for stronger action to educate girls and empower women. Education for girls and women is one of the most effective ways to improve lives, raise healthy families and boost socio-economic development in communities around the world. 

Join the discussions on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Weibo. 

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Girls Can Achieve Empowerment When Everyone Is #UpForSchool

Ms Sarah Brown
Executive Chair of The Global Business Coalition for Education, President of Theirworld
Mar 08, 2015

The celebration of International Women’s Day this year is overshadowed by seemingly endless reports of violence against girls and women, in conflict areas from Syria to Nigeria, from Ukraine to Iraq.

Few post-war years have seen so many civil wars and so many girls and women subject to abductions, kidnaps, trafficking, and sexual abuse. And in our fight for women's rights round the world we need to develop new measures that will, in particular, help girls escape from the traumas of war.

A month from now the United Nations will commemorate a sad one-year anniversary. They will mark the kidnap of the 219 Chibok girls from their school in northern Nigeria by terrorist group Boko Haram. The girls are still missing.

Elsewhere girls are also suffering in unspeakable ways. In Syria, a country now entering its fourth year of civil war, Syrian girls are at risk of being forced into child marriage and child labour. Or even to be sold as one million Syrian child refugees flee to neighbouring countries.

And in India the campaign against rape goes on, needing high profile governmental support to ensure proper policing of the law. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, girls are kept at home and married off young when families fear for their safety on their journey to school or within the classroom.

And while the Nobel Prize recognised the fight for girl’s rights there is as yet little appreciation that we are in a civil rights struggle, a liberation fight for girls to be accorded the basic freedoms they deserve.

It is clear that we all must work to ensure young girls everywhere find their rightful place in school, and save marriage and other opportunities for later on in life. 

Education is pivotal in changing, and often saving, the lives of hundreds of thousands of girls and women each year. We need to make sure it can change the lives of the 31 million girls who still do not receive a single day at school. 

As WISE plans ahead for its gathering of the world’s education experts for 2015, the biggest new issue on the agenda will be the increase of attacks on school children. 

new human rights report shows that schoolgirls were particularly vulnerable to physical attacks. Girls and boys have faced nearly 10,000 individual attacks on their educational institutions in the past five years, including murder, arson, kidnapping and intimidation against girls simply for wanting to go to school. In 2012 alone there were 3,600 separate attacks against educational institutions, teachers and schools and there is every indication that this is rising.

The abduction of the young Chibok girls has inspired the new Safe Schools programme in northeastern Nigeria supported by government, business and civil society working in partnership. New Safe School programmes have now been proposed for India and Pakistan as young people call out for the barriers to education to be removed. 

Progress is also being made to create Safe Schools in Lebanon to include both Syrian refugees and any young Lebanese children whose circumstances mean that they have been missing out on schooling. These are hard won achievements but there is more to do. With over half of the world’s out-of-school children and adults in conflict-affected areas, Safe Schools are essential if we are to achieve universal education.

Just last week, A World at School published the MDG2 scorecard that shows the progress (or lack of it) for countries with over 500,000 children out of school. It is not good news but it is the story we need to tell, and we can see where change needs to come from We can all demonstrate to world leaders that we want action on education by signing up to the #UpForSchool petition which calls for every child to have the chance to go to school and learn. 

The business community can play a leadership role in eliminating the barriers that continue to keep girls out of school.  This week, GBC-Education launches its Girls’ Education Task Force: a group of business leaders committed to getting girls into school. The Task Force - chaired by the Dangote Foundation, Standard Chartered and Intel - will leverage the resources, networks and know-how of its participants to ensure girls are completing school, developing relevant skills and finding jobs to reach their full potential.

It is time to honour the achievements and contribution of girls and women everywhere while recognising the barriers that still keep millions of children out of school.  This year we have a window of opportunity to put the pressure on political leaders to keep their promise when they meet at the United Nations in September, and again to pledge new actions at WISE.  Together we can make International Women’s Day a key global moment that helps make 2015 the year all boys and girls secured the right to go to school and learn. 

This International Women’s Day we can all stand #UpForSchool for the next generation and ensure that they have the opportunity to grow, learn at school and lead.  Please sign and share the global petition at upforschool.org.

Gender Equity, Access and Inclusion, Early Childhood Care and Education

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