Alok Sharma makes a statement to the House of Commons on the UK’s work to support girls’ education around the world and, in particular, to help provide 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the UK’s work to support girls’ education around the world—in particular, our work to help provide 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030, and to leave no girl behind.
Educating girls is the tool that can address a whole host of the world’s economic and social problems. It is one of the five foundations of DFID’s wider work on gender equality, which tackles the barriers that hold women and girls back. Educating girls prevents child marriage and early pregnancy, helps women into the workforce and boosts household incomes and economic growth. Supporting education for girls and women gives them a greater voice. That voice helps them to shape their own future and advocate for changes in their own lives and, very importantly, the lives of other girls and women.
On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I met a group of teenage girls learning to code. One of them told me: “Education is a weapon that can change the world”—and she was absolutely right. Educating girls is central to achieving women’s rights and empowerment and to achieving the sustainable development goals. Nothing could be more important than giving every child the chance to make the most of their talents, ensuring that every child can reach their full potential.
We know that many girls become mothers before they finish school. The vital sexual and reproductive health services that they need are simply not available. In the Sahel, for example, child marriage and early pregnancy are endemic, stopping girls entering and staying in education. Three quarters of girls in Niger are married before their 18th birthday; more than one in four is married before the age of 15.
This situation is not acceptable. We in the UK are leading the action globally to address this injustice. Today I can update the House on the UK’s continued global leadership on girls’ education. The UK is a world leader on girls’ education. I am immensely proud to spearhead the British Government’s girls’ education campaign. That campaign—Leave No Girl Behind—was launched by our Prime Minister in 2018 when he was Foreign Secretary. The campaign leads by example. It gets girls learning, builds international political commitment and boosts global investment so that all girls have access to 12 years of quality education by 2030. The girls education campaign is an essential part of this Government’s broader endeavours to promote global Britain’s core values overseas.
Through our strong political leadership and the UK’s global diplomatic network, we have achieved many notable successes since the launch of the campaign in 2018. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018, all 53 Commonwealth members agreed to work to ensure 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030. At the G7 in 2018, over £2.3 billion was raised for girls’ education. At the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, the leaders of the UK, Canada and France came together with key partners from the global south—Jordan, Niger and Kenya—to endorse a joint statement that focused global political attention on girls’ education. This year we have led and launched the Safe to Learn campaign, which addresses violence that prevents girls from attending and learning in school.
I hope that this demonstrates that the UK is leading across a range of programmes to build commitment and boost investment globally in our mission to ensure all girls access 12 years of quality education by 2030. Only last month, at the G7 leaders summit in Biarritz, our Prime Minister announced £90 million of new funding to provide education for children caught up in crises and conflict. Girls, who are more than twice as likely to be out of school in conflict areas, stand to benefit the most from this support. The Prime Minister also announced £30 million for affirmative finance action for Women in Africa. This will help to break down barriers to women’s economic empowerment by providing up to 10,000 women with essential business training and thousands more with better access to business loans. Unleashing the economic potential of women will boost African economies, trade and investment opportunities, and increase global prosperity. This is in the interests of the UK and African countries and will provide girls with strong female role models.
At the UN General Assembly later this month, which I will attend, girls’ education will be at the heart of the UK’s activities and interventions. All UK-funded education programmes have a focus on girls and young women. Between 2015 and 2019, the UK supported 5.8 million girls to gain a decent education. Our Girls Education Challenge is the world’s largest fund dedicated to girls’ education. It is now supporting up to 1.5 million marginalised girls in 17 countries around the world.
I am absolutely clear that girls’ education remains a key priority for this Government. We must send a strong signal that we will not give up on half of the world’s population. I strongly believe that educating a girl ultimately helps to educate a nation. I commend this statement to the House.