Get all girls into school and give them a fighting chance against HIV

[8 March 2007] - Across the world today, one in every five girls of primary school age are not in school. When girls miss out, not only are they denied the chance to learn to read and write, earn a living and participate in democracy, it also puts their lives in jeopardy. Education gives women and girls the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to protect themselves against HIV and AIDS.

The Global Campaign for Education is calling on world leaders to join up and take urgent action now. They must ensure everyone, especially girls, can go to school and get the education needed to fight for their rights. Poorer countries need to enact policies that will make school free, accessible and safe for girls and boys, whilst rich countries must live up to promises repeatedly made, and still not fulfilled, to increase aid in support of these policies.

"World leaders barely raised an eyebrow when we missed the Millennium Development Goal to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Shockingly, 94 countries missed this target. Two years on it is a travesty that the international community continues to stand by as millions of girls are denied their rights to a life-saving education," said Maria Khan, GCE Board Member. 

Around the world, 80 million children - mostly girls - are out of school. Eight hundred million adults, mostly women, cannot read and write. Yet free education has been enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since 1948.

Giving girls the chance to learn to read and write not only fulfils their right to an education – but it also helps them in challenging the many power imbalances between men and women, and crucially in protecting themselves against HIV.

In a survey carried out last year 30 per cent of girls in South Africa said that their first sexual experience was under force or threat of force. When it comes to HIV and AIDS women and girls fare the worst – accounting for 74 per cent of young people living with HIV in Africa.

At present many women simply do not have the power they need to decide who to have sex with, when to have sex and how to have safe sex. Education can give women a chance to challenge this situation. The more education women and girls receive, the better they are able to negotiate safer sex and HIV rates. This is clearly demonstrated in Swaziland, where two in three girls who are in school are HIV negative, while two in three of girls out of school are HIV positive.

Girls who complete primary school are 50 per cent less likely to be infected with HIV. Seven million cases of HIV could be prevented in a decade if all children attended primary school.

Not only are educated girls better able to protect their own health but they are also able to make informed choices that can protect the health of their family and earn a greater income, giving them more bargaining power within the home:

  • The children of women who can read and write are 50 per cent more likely to live past the age of 5.
  • In poor countries, each year of schooling increases girls' future earning power by 10-20 per cent.

The Global Campaign for Education asks that leaders no longer turn a blind eye whilst the rights of women and girls are denied. Give them a fighting chance. Ensure education is of high quality, free and accessible to everyone, especially girls.


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