By Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize laureate and activist for female education
Since I began my work as an education activist, I’ve met girls around the world who are denied an education because of war, poverty and discrimination.
Today is International Day of the Girl—and I’d like to introduce you to two of my friends and ask you to join us in our campaign for all girls to have access to 12 years of school.
Amina lives in northern Nigeria where Boko Haram, a terrorist group that opposes girls’ education, is based. While Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls, Amina continued to go to school, graduating from secondary school (high school) last year.
In her community, girls rarely attend secondary school after their primary education and many are forced to marry at ages as young as 12. Today Amina serves a mentor for younger girls, encouraging them to enroll and stay in school.
Salam is my friend from Syria. She and her family fled their home in 2013 and settled near a refugee settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. For two years, Salam had nowhere to go to school. She was only able to resume her studies in July, when she enrolled in a school supported by Malala Fund donors and that was opened on my 18th birthday.
Salam says Syrian refugee children must go back to school because “we are the ones who will rebuild all that was destroyed.”
Girls can change the world—but only if we can give them the education they need to thrive. As Amina is already proving, educated girls grow into women who can have real impact in their communities for generations to come.
Investing in girls education in developing countries also leads to economic growth, healthier communities, respect for women’s rights and more:
- If all women in low and lower middle income countries completed secondary education, deaths of children under the age of five would fall by 49% and early births to teenage mothers would fall by 59%.
- In countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage, girls with no education are six times more likely to marry as children than girls with a secondary education.
- A woman with a secondary education will have children who get on average four more years of school than those with less education.
Girls like Salam and Amina know education can change their lives and their communities. The facts prove they’re right. Yet in developing countries, the poorest girls, on average, receive only three years of schooling.
Why are we still waiting for a world where all girls get 12 years of safe, free education?
At the United Nations last month, countries around the world committed to the Sustainable Development Goals, including the goal of giving all children a safe, free, quality education by 2030.
It’s a lofty promise – but we need everyone’s help to make it a reality. We must all raise our voices and tell our leaders to invest in education for all girls.
Tell them to invest in education for Salam and all refugee children—so that wars cannot stop them from learning.
Tell them to invest in education for the girls Amina mentors, bring back our sisters abducted by Boko Haram, and ensure all girls can study in safety.
Tell them to keep their commitments and invest in our future by giving every child a safe, free, and quality primary and secondary education.
The world needs a change. It cannot change itself. It is me, it is you, it is all of us who have to bring that change.