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Credit: Hugh Sitton

Women and Girls

Educating Girls

Kenya has made significant gains in education, with more than 80 percent of all boys and girls currently enrolled in primary schools. In secondary schools, the rate of enrollment drops to 50 percent for both boys and girls. Poverty is the main cause of low overall enrollment, and given socioeconomic norms, boys receive priority for higher education when there are financial constraints.

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health.

Educated girls realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will. They have lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Their agricultural plots are more productive and their families better nourished.

Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Today, there are economic, cultural, and safety-related barriers that impede 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. Key strategies to change that include:

  • make school affordable;
  • help girls overcome health barriers;
  • reduce the time and distance to get to school; and
  • make schools more girl-friendly.


[impact of] 100 percent enrollment: Lutz, Wolfgang, and Samir KC. “Global Human Capital: Integrating Education and Population.” Science, 333, no. 6042 (2011): 587-592.

“no years [vs.] 12 years of schooling”: Winthrop, Rebecca, and Homi Kharas. “Want to Save the Planet? Invest in Girls’ Education.” Brookings Institution. March 3, 2016.

1.1 billion people [without] electricity: IEA and World Bank. Sustainable Energy for All 2015—Progress Toward Sustainable Energy. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2015.

per-capita emissions [by country]: The World Bank. “CO2 Emissions (Metric Tons Per Capita).” 2013. (data from Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory).

Malala Yousafzai…“change the world”: Yousafzai, Malala. Speech to the United Nations Youth Assembly, New York, July 12, 2013.

enormous body of evidence: Sperling, Gene B., and Rebecca Winthrop. What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2016.

“highly cost-competitive…emissions abatement”: Wheeler, David, and Dan Hammer. “The Economics of Population Policy for Carbon Emissions Reduction in Developing Countries.” CGD Working Paper 229. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2010.

“reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters”: Striessnig, E., W. Lutz, and A. G. Patt. “Effects of Educational Attainment on Climate Risk Vulnerability.” Ecology and Society 18, no. 1 (2013); Blankespoor, Brian, Susmita Dasgupta, Benoit Laplante and David Wheeler. The Economics of Adaptation to Extreme Weather Events in Developing Countries. Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 199. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2010.

barriers [impeding education]: Sperling and Winthrop, What Works.

seven areas of interconnected interventions: Sperling and Winthrop, What Works.

62 million girls are denied [education]: Sperling and Winthrop, What Works.

South Asia…sub-Saharan Africa…secondary education: Sperling and Winthrop, What Works.

international aid for education: Winthrop and Kharas, “Invest”; Education for All Global Monitoring Report. Pricing the Right to Education: The Cost of Reaching New Targets by 2030. Policy Paper 18. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2015.

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p. 82

Today, 130 million girls are denied the right to attend school.

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