A new Donor Scorecard published by Theirworld has revealed that 80million children had their education affected by conflicts and natural disasters in 2015. Girls are particularly disadvantaged being 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys in countries affected by conflict.
Alas, the devastating news does not stop there: the situation is getting worse instead of better due to increasingly dangerous geopolitics around the globe. Conflict in the Middle East, the threat of terror attacks in Africa, and the risks posed by natural disasters like Nepal's 2015 earthquake, only look set to grow. We need to act urgently to ensure that girls are protected and don't become the immediate casualties each time a new crisis unfolds.
In every new war, attack or quake, girls are rushed into greater risk of being forced into domestic labour, married off young, or trafficked and pushed into prostitution and transactional sex for survival - all of which cuts right across their opportunity to stay in school and invest in their own future. It hardly needs saying that education can help protect girls both physically and emotionally, and offers girls and their families hope for a better tomorrow.
Even before the next conflict or disaster emerges, it is already the case a girl is ten times less likely to finish secondary school. This is not just a personal tragedy for each young woman whose dreams have been cut short (which itself should be enough of a reason), but an issue that has stark repercussions for economies and social health prospects for entire regions.
While rallying calls have been made over the last decade by many groups like Girl Effect, Girl Rising, Because I Am a Girl, CAMFED and Girls Not Brides, the importance of investing in girls' education seems to have dawned at long last on the international community as global efforts are galvanised. In the midst of this flurry of announcements for girls and new political commitments, we do need to make practical plans that will keep girls safe as they learn.
Theirworld has been at the forefront of this drive, with the Safe Schools Initiative which was launched to protect girls after Boko Haram targeted Nigerian schoolgirls, working alongside partners like Unicef in Nigeria, girls are increasingly returning to school as their parents are satisfied that the right safety measures are in place. The most recent disaster of the Nepalese earthquake brought with it the greater aftershocks for girls as they found themselves out of school and many remain to this day vulnerable to trafficking and other unspeakable dangers. Theirworld's latest Safe Schools campaign shows what still needs to be done.
No self-respecting article on girls is complete without reference to STEM and technology access and opportunity. At Theirworld we have taken up this challenge working with the Global Business Coalition for Education on a report, and the launch of our first Code Club for girls in Nairobi where girls will learn vital technology skills in a safe and stimulating environment. Working with Kano, Codeacademy and Africa Gathering the girls will be taught how to code by a qualified teacher during the six month programme. During this year more than 600 girls between the ages of five and 24 will join the clubs in Kenya, Uganda and Senegal and this is just the first micro step with bold plans for the coming year.
A final frustration in developing the full potential of girls lies in the lack of adequate investment in Early Childhood Development. Early interventions can help all children thrive and we are calling for greater financing for early year's investment. Here we need new practical plans designed to respond to the developmental capacities of girls as they show signs of being more socially attuned, responding better to voices and faces but by age three boys have caught up and are more advanced in spatial awareness exercises, such as puzzles. If caregivers of girls are aware of these subtle differences we can help to close the gap from an early age and give girls an equal chance in the future. It is never too early to start, and never too soon to do more.
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