The Commonwealth is home to one third of the world’s population, and nearly two thirds of these individuals are under the age of 30.Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that education is, or should be, a top priority for Commonwealth countries. With young populations and great ambition, the education of Commonwealth citizens is paramount to its success. And within this, equal education is key.
Gender disparity continues to be a problem in Commonwealth education, as indeed with education globally. Across the world, two-thirds of illiterate adults are female, girls achieve less education than boys, and 63 million girls are out of school. Within the Commonwealth, there is an average 3% difference between female and male primary school participation, favouring the latter. The disparity widens at secondary level, but with mixed bias; the ratio of girls to boys ranges from 0.62:1 to 1.38:1, respectively. This suggests that the issue of gender disparity is an issue for all sexes, ages and countries – and that there is much work to do.
Education for girls specifically should be central to all Commonwealth country’s agendas. As highlighted in the Royal Commonwealth Society’s report Preventing Child Marriage in the Commonwealth: the Role of Education, ‘a good quality gender sensitive and rights-based education is a powerful tool to end child marriage’. It empowers girls to understand their rights, participate in economic activity, and promotes healthy lifestyles. Ultimately, education opens the door to freedoms enjoyed by female students’ male counterparts in terms of marriage.
Furthermore, UNESCO identifies that educated women are more likely to survive childbirth, more likely to find paid work, improves child nutrition, and narrows the gender pay gap. The Commonwealth cannot ignore the importance of a quality education for all its citizens, not least its young female population.
Positively, girls’ education has been a central issue for the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) in recent years. With initiatives such as the Girls’ Education Challenge, DFID has joined other Commonwealth countries in actively promoting the importance of girls’ education. The GEC is a £300 million fund that began in 2012, and will see 37 individual projects completed across 18 countries. Many other Commonwealth countries have shown similar initiative in promoting, supporting and ultimately funding girls’ education. Indeed, at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, a fund to support education in emergencies was developed. The Education Cannot Wait fund proves global leaders’ increased commitment and attention to the importance of education for all.
DFID is now working with Civil Society Organisations such as Plan UK to organise a Girls’ Education Summit, allowing stakeholders from across the sector and across the Commonwealth to express their views on tackling gender disparity in education. A key element of this summit will be a Youth Consultation, which is open until Monday,20 June 2016, seeking the views of ‘girls, boys, young women and young men around the world on what is needed to improve education for the world’s most marginalised girls.’ The consultation will form part of an Action Plan to be agreed upon by world leaders at the Summit, happening in London on the Thursday, 7 July 2016.
The Royal Commonwealth Society invites all young Commonwealth citizens to take part and have their voices heard. As education, and girls’ education specifically, is a key part of the international development agenda across the Commonwealth, it is imperative that young people are represented in these efforts. The Youth Consultation will ensure that any decision made at the Girls’ Education Summit is youth-sensitive, youth-focused and youth-led. And, ultimately, this youth involvement will support successful and relevant girls’ education strategies across the world, improving education for all.