There is a global crisis in education. This is a crisis that can be and must be averted, because education is a human right and the keystone of development.
This Thursday is the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, a day we at Plan International lobbied for to focus the world's attention on girls' rights. On the same day, Plan will launch a worldwide campaign, Because I am a Girl, to directly support four million girls, and indirectly millions more, to get the education, skills and support they need to move from poverty to opportunity.
To mark the launch, we are turning monuments across the world pink, from the London Eye to the Empire State Building, a colourful metaphor for a moment which I believe can and should be a tipping point in alerting the world that we are failing to deliver on girls' fundamental rights to have access to a quality education.
Globally, one in three girls around the world is denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence. Every day, young girls are missing out on school, forced into marriage and subjected to violence. Millions are not successfully transitioning to a quality, lower secondary education. In fact, 75 million girls around the world of a lower secondary school age are currently out of school, at a time when it has the potential to transform their own lives and the communities around them.
If the figures seem unmanageable, let me give you an example I hope you can relate to. In South Sudan (the world's newest country and one of its poorest) there are only 400 girls aged 14 to 15 in school, when there should be some 100,000 - only one in 250 are being given the chance to realise their potential. That means that there are more girls in three secondary schools in my hometown of Oxford, UK - which has 130,000 people - than in the whole of South Sudan, which has a population of 10 million people. I find it almost impossible to comprehend the scale of that gap!
I travel often to meet the children being supported by Plan projects in 50 developing countries around the world. Invariably, the girls talk articulately about the problems they face and what can be done about them. Many of the girls want to be doctors, lawyers, nurses or teachers. But amidst their dreams, they and their friends are being married off to older men and their brothers put through school while they are made to stay at home. A girl is being married off every three seconds around the world. That's why reducing the barriers that girls face to education is the central goal of our campaign.
Our wider ambition is to combine programming and advocacy to help millions of girls achieve their ambitions. We will do this by direct programme work with the girls themselves and their communities and governments, including working to end child marriage, gender-based violence and discrimination. But also by lobbying hard to change legislation to enforce laws to improve their lives. We will align our Because I am a Girl campaign with the Education First initiative which the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has just announced, creating a powerful force for change.
According to the UN, education can radically mitigate other risks. Each additional year of education received by a mother is estimated to reduce the risk of child death by up to nine per cent. A UN survey across 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that 81 per cent of women who had completed their secondary education knew that condoms could help reduce the spread of HIV - while for uneducated women, the figure was just 59 per cent. In Indonesia, child vaccination rates are only 19 per cent for illiterate mothers, leaping to 68 per cent for those mothers who have attended secondary school. The facts speak for themselves. Improving education for girls reflects in a better quality of life for her, her children, and her family. And she will be economically advantaged as well; if a girl goes to secondary school for an extra year, she will increase her future income by 15 to 20 per cent, according to the World Bank.
Our campaign is ambitious but very necessary. Supported by film and digital campaigns by the UK's leading advertising agency AMV BBDO, we are already asking people to raise their hand to show support for girls' education. I would ask everyone who cares about this subject to do the same. The key to eliminating cyclical poverty is education and girls.
Please visit raiseyourhandnow.com to support the rights of all girls to a quality education, or tweet @PlanGlobal, #bcimagirl.
To watch the films by AMV BBDO, which feature our ambassador Freida Pinto (film one) and Sunshine, a young girl who was living with her family in the street slums of the Philippines' capital of Manila* (film 2), please click on the links provided.
* Subsequent to the filming of the ad, Sunshine and her family were rehoused and provided with financial support for food and education by a local government agency.