The following opinion piece is part of series to mark International Women’s Day, March 8.


NEW YORK, Mar 8 2023 (IPS) – On International Women’s Day, let us remind ourselves of the power of education. We have all benefited from an education that less than a century ago was not a given for a girl and which still remains a distant utopia for millions of young girls.

I know from my own life and that of my daughter that a quality education empowers us. This is a universal truth for every girl in the world. Education empowers girls to realize their dreams and achieve their goals, and most of all to empower other girls. A quality education expands the mind, nurtures the soul, and equips us with a tool to realize our full potential during our life’s journey.

With over 120 million girls enduring armed conflicts, forced displacement and climate disasters unable to benefit from a quality education, we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to their humanity, their rights, their potential and their dreams.

We must stand up ¬– united as a global community of the 21st Century – and say no to gender-based violence, say no to child marriage, say no to workplace inequities, and say no to the deprivation of a quality education for women and girls everywhere.

We must apply a laser focus on the millions of girls left furthest behind in emergencies and protracted crises. Because of their suffering and dispossession, because of the depth of despair in which they live, I am firmly convinced these girls have a unique capacity and potential to achieve unknown and extraordinary heights in any profession of their choice. Their resilience, combined with a quality education, has the magical strength of contributing greatly to their society, their country and the world at large. We cannot afford to lose out on this treasure for the sake of all of us.

To make good on our commitments, we must ensure every girl is ensured 12 years of quality education. For girls caught in conflicts in places like Ukraine and the Sahel, for the millions of girls denied their human right to an education in Afghanistan, and for the girls displaced from their homes in South America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and even Europe and North America, education is the key that will unlock a better life for them and a better world for all.

What we can and must do is empower them to break the chains of thousands of years of inequity to once and for all break through that glass ceiling and declare this generation of girls as “Generation Equality!”, and with that also, “The generation that unleashed humanity’s potential.”

The challenges are daunting. ECW partner UNESCO estimates that around the world, 129 million girls are out of school, including 32 million in primary school and 97 million in secondary. For girls caught in conflict and crises, the situation is even worse. Two out of every three girls in humanitarian crises won’t start secondary school. And if current trends continue, by 2025, climate change will be a contributing factor in preventing at least 12.5 million girls from completing their education each year, according to the Malala Fund.

Our investment in girls’ education is our investment in the future for all of humanity, our civilization, our evolution, and above all for human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. As the UN global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, ECW has achieved gender parity between girls and boys in its First Emergency Response and Multi-Year Resilience Programme investments. The Fund has also committed to support gender-equitable investments in the new Strategic Plan period 2023-2026. And through smart investments like our new Acceleration Facility Grants for gender equality, we are building the public goods and global movement we need to create transformational change in the sector.

Imagine the economic and social impact if every girl on planet earth was actually able to go to 12 years of school? A World Bank study estimates that the “limited educational opportunities for girls, and barriers to completing 12 years of education, cost countries between US$15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.” Imagine the transformation of a world that badly needs to move from extreme poverty to equity, and a world that establishes peace and security, and human rights for all. We made that promise in 1945 in the UN Charter. It is not an utopia. It is a real possibility. We know what needs to be done: Empower her through a quality education.

Indeed, education is the answer.

Yasmine Sherif is Director of Education Cannot Wait.