Why a girl's place is in the classroom

by Roxane Philson | @ONE | ONE
Wednesday, 8 March 2017 13:38 GMT

Girls attend a class at their school in a village outside Yemen's capital Sanaa in this 2016 archive photo. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Equality is important. It matters because it's right, but it also pays off.

I can’t say I was a perfect student. There were definitely times when I felt I had better things to do as a teenager.

Of course, I’m glad I stuck with it: it helped me get to university and without the things I learned there, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I had the choice: there was a school, funded by the local authorities in Witney where I grew up, and I was encouraged to attend by my parents and friends. (Encouraged with love, and the occasional harsh word).

The idea that I might not have been allowed to attend – that there might have been no school for me, because I was a girl, never crossed my mind. Primary education in England has been compulsory for boys and girls since 1880. No-one would have burned down my school because it educated girls, and the police would have arrested them if they had done. No-one was going to try to make me leave so I could get married.

I had choices. One hundred and thirty million girls around the world – twice the population of the UK – don’t. They are out of school, not because they want to be, but because there are no schools where they live, or girls aren’t welcome there, or they can’t afford it. The reasons are important – take a look at our report – but that number: it really stuck with me when my policy colleagues first told me.

Vast numbers like that aren't easy to comprehend. It's one of the things that makes development hard to convey to people. So, alongside this report, we are also launching an action, #GirlsCount to humanise this obscene fact. We are asking people to take a number between 1 and 130 million and to film themselves count it out loud – because each number represents a real girl that could be any girl you know were it not for the lottery of where in the world she was born. They grew up in northeast Nigeria, not West Oxfordshire.

The campaign is supported by amazing leaders on gender issues such as Malala Yousafzai, Sheryl Sandberg and Angelique Kidjo but we need everyone to join in – or I will be counting for five years alone. The beauty of the idea is that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you voted or where you live you because the importance of girls education should be something indisputable. Sadly not everyone agrees: Boko Haram (which means ‘western education is forbidden’ have specifically targeted girls being educated and have destroyed over 1,000 schools in the North East of Nigeria.

If you simply recorded and shared a video it would matter – it would send a message that there are issues that can actually transcend the politics of left, right and populist – that we still have some common ground when it comes to basic rights. It would also convey the scale of the problem. But the impact of your video won’t end on the internet but on the doorsteps of leaders who need to know. We will bring these videos together - hopefully making the longest film in history – and deploy it to deafening effect at key political moments.

Equality is important. It matters because it's right, but it also pays off. Getting girls in school is simply one of the best investments we can make for the world. For every additional year of school in a developing country a girl’s income goes up by almost 12 percent, and likelihood of disease and of child marriage reduces, with these girls growing into young women who have fewer kids into whose success they invest more. It also has the potential to generate an additional $112 billion to developing world economies – not bad when you consider putting a girl in school for a day costs less than a loaf of bread…

So please get your phone out and start counting with us because a seat at the table begins with a seat in the classroom.

Join the count at https://girlscount.one.org/

Roxane Philson serves as ONE’s chief marketing officer, based in Washington D.C.