How far will her success ripple out to others?

The Beijing Platform for Action, developed at a 1995 United Nations conference, sets an agenda for women’s empowerment and identified 12 critical areas of concern. More than two decades after Beijing, ShareAmerica assesses global progress in each critical area.Today’s entry focuses on inequalities and inadequacies in access to education.

Girls often are prevented from attaining their full potential in traditional societies because educating daughters is not a priority. School fees and concerns about girls’ safety at school also hinder their education. But overwhelming evidence that educated girls benefit society and international focus on universal education are gradually overcoming these barriers.

Running a successful food stall, as this woman in Uganda does, requires the ability to read, write and do arithmetic. (© AP Images)

Why educating girls matters

Few investments pay off like girls’ education. Household surveys in developing countries consistently show that women with more education have smaller, healthier and better-educated families.

The World Bank reports that education boosts women’s wages and leads to faster economic growth.  Family wealth and well-being are enhanced when women earn more. There are lower levels of HIV infection, domestic violence and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and bride burning.

A student at Beloit College, Wisconsin, explores botany with a younger science student. (© AP Images)

Today’s report card on women’s and girls’ education

Efforts to attract girls to male-dominated science and technology fields help, but women still lag behind. UNESCO statistics on women in science tell the story. There has been progress getting girls into elementary and secondary schools, but fewer are university-educated.

The poorest countries educate fewer girls. Somalia tops the list of 10 African countries with the fewest educational opportunities for girls, says UNESCO. Much work remains to be done.

Girls do well in countries with high numbers of female students. In Latin America, Europe, East Asia and the United States, girls’ enrollment in secondary and higher education has surpassed that of their male peers, demonstrating what girls can achieve when given the opportunity.

Yet two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. And poor women in rural areas are much more likely to lack literacy.

Workshops such as this one, run by Black Girls Code in New York City, train girls for internet technology jobs. (© AP Images)

What can we learn from successful efforts?

Gains in women’s education come from tuition-free schools, scholarships, community schools for girls and training for women teachers. These targeted efforts produced higher girls’ school enrollments in countries, including Bangladesh, Yemen, Morocco, Uganda and Brazil.

Girls need to stay in school. Political commitment is essential. Mexico pioneered a major social program — now replicated in impoverished communities worldwide — that pays families to keep girl children in school.

Afghan refugee girls learn at a makeshift school in Pakistan. (© AP Images)

Governments, educators and communities can counter attitudes and practices that impede girls’ education, such as gender stereotypes that promote women’s low status and early marriages. Studies show that educated women bring better health and economic stability to their families and communities.

Read about Malala Yousafzai’s goals for girls.

The Beijing Platform for Action has more on the 12 critical areas of concern regarding women’s rights.

Learn more about International Women’s Day.