As we approach International Women’s Day, you are likely to hear how far we’ve come to advance opportunities for women. While there are encouraging statistics, such as a narrowing of the gap in educational attendance between boys and girls, new studies show that measuring just one narrow indicator of girls’ education, namely school attendance, misses some underlying problems. Girls are still being held back disproportionately by low-quality schools and a lack of skills relevant for future employment. The gender gap in the global workforce is also substantial, with only 49% of women participating in the workforce globally versus 75% of men. The impact of these large gender gaps can rob countries of human potential. The World Bank estimates that the loss in human capital wealth from the under-education of girls to be between $15 trillion and $30 trillion annually.
Addressing this fundamental imbalance in quality of education and opportunity to enter the workforce can and must be the next frontier in global efforts to attack female poverty.
Although we are seeing an increasing number of girls attending school, tens of millions attend only sporadically because of the barriers they face, including grueling daily physical journeys, political unrest and displacement, travel through war-ravaged areas and being targets of violence for violating cultural norms.
When girls do attend class, there is little guarantee of quality learning. A recent World Bank study of 15- to 19-year-olds who had completed primary, but not secondary schooling, showed that boys were more likely than girls to have basic literacy skills in 9 out of 24 countries. The also findings showed that girls are substantially more likely to lack basic literacy skills in every country. Gaps like this explain why women still account for two-thirds of the world’s 750 million illiterate people.
Further, research from the World Economic Forum demonstrates that advanced education is often out of reach for many girls. In disadvantaged communities, fewer than two-thirds completed primary education, and only a third completed lower secondary school. These numbers are even more severe in computer and technology related fields, posing clear disadvantages for future employment.
Fortunately, there is a clear path for equal opportunity and a prosperous future. Workforce training and education have the potential to advance the global workforce and enable upward economic mobility – particularly if they are focused on demand-driven skills, addressing technology and micro-business needs.
Organizations like the Women’s Bean Project, help prepare women for the workforce, enabling them to be self-sufficient through social enterprise. This program has a 100% job placement for graduates and 93% of the women are still employed one year after graduating the program. Providing the skills and tools to these women gives them the confidence and self-efficacy to make lasting changes in their lives for the better.
New research by the World Economic Forum projects that it will take over 100 years to achieve education and financial parity for women if we continue to progress at the current rate. When the global community prioritized closing the school attendance gap, great advances were made. Let’s accelerate this fight for equality for women’s education and workforce training and achieve this goal in far less than a century, so that we might realize equality in our lifetime.