Education has a transformative impact on individuals, communities and entire economies. Education is central to the empowerment of women and girls, and provides the key foundation for a productive life.
Girls’ education is a strategic development priority. Evidence shows that girls’ education has a transformational impact on development outcomes. In addition to education being a fundamental human right, educating girls is one of the world's best investments as it offers wide-reaching returns. Educating girls raises economic productivity, and lowers infant and maternal mortality, child marriage, and the incidence of malaria and HIV/AIDS. Educated women have a positive impact on agricultural production, communities' resilience to natural disasters and they take more of a leadership role in decision-making.
Girls who receive an education are more likely marry older, participate in the labour market in a skilled profession, earn higher incomes, have great autonomy over her sexual and reproductive health and choices, and have fewer children. These outcomes reap significant benefits — educating girl’s enables stronger and more resilient economies and reduces poverty and inequalities.
The impacts of COVID-19
School closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns risk undermining progress worldwide on school enrolment and gender parity in education over the past decades. Previous pandemics, such as Ebola, showed dropout rates for girls due to: teenage pregnancy; costs associated with schooling and preference to invest in boys’ education; and social norms around domestic duties.
Across East Asia and the Pacific, the number of girls out of school is expected to increase by nearly ten per cent, with at least 1.2 million additional girls at risk of dropping out of school. Girls’ access to learning resources has been highly constrained, with an estimated 40 million girls across the region unable to access distance learning during lockdown measures.
The interplay of poverty, gender, ability, rurality, remoteness and age will be core risk factors shaping the pattern of exclusion from re-attendance at school. Intersecting inequalities, challenging environments and evolving policy delivery create a complex backdrop for access and learning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Australian Government's Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response outlines Australia’s approach to tackling COVID-19 in our region, pivoting our development program with an emphasis on supporting women, girls and the most vulnerable. Australia has signed on to the Statement of Action to Accelerate Marginalised Girls' Education Outcomes and Gender Equality, reaffirming our commitment to advocate for policies and investments that empower girls in the Indo-Pacific region and globally.
Reducing potential dropouts and ensuring girls return to good quality school is a core priority. In coordination with partner governments, education programs in Asia and the Pacific are focusing on equity and inclusion in transitions to distance, blended and online learning models. Please find below some examples of gender-focused programs and resources:
- The Technical Assistance for Education System Strengthening Program, Indonesia — Gender and Disability Inclusion Plan
- Partner-led medium term review of Empowerment through Education Phase 3 Afghanistan
- Innovation for Indonesia's School Children (INOVASI) Program – Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Strategy (2018), Indonesia
- Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development — Pacific Girl
- Basic Education Quality and Access Program — Gender and Inclusive Education Strategy (2018), Laos
- DFAT, COVID-19 and Education: Protecting Child Rights — Practical Resources and Actions for DFAT Staff and Partners (April 2020)