How Far Have We Gone and How Far Have Girls Gone?

A grade five student reads in front of the class at Phonsivilay Primary School, Meun District, Lao PDR, December 2018.
Image: Kelley Lynch/GPE

October marks a few important dates for women, especially girls’ rights. Along with the International Day for Girl Child, the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, a few reports on girls’ development also came out. I started searching for news covering girls’ rights, wondering how gender equality or the progress on this issue is portrayed in different sources, especially when international ones are compared to local ones. 

UNSCEO’s report, A new generation: 25 years of efforts for gender equality in education, and a joint report by Citi and Plan International, titled The Case for Holistic Investment in Girls: Improving Lives, Realizing Potential, Benefitting Everyone , are two most cited references across international media. The publishing dates of the two reports are very close to each other, but the latter definitely received more attention. Business InsiderBusinessWireGlobal citizens, and Women’s Agenda, all highlighted that girls’ education can generate positive economic returns. While the scope and depth of those two reports provided many insights into the progress and challenges on girls’ education and girls’ rights, only the latter two sites, added with the PIES News, are trying to convey the whole picture: approaches to achieve high “return on investment” on girls include holistic investment and interventions: covering health, education, violence prevention and economic independence, collaborative efforts from different stakeholders, as well as systemic and long-lasting changes.

Unsurprisingly, news outlet targeting audiences in the economic and financial sector (Business Insider and BusinessWire) utilize the ideas that economic return of investing in girls’ education is high and the average intervention cost is as low as “approximately $1.53 a day for a girl — less than a daily cup of coffee”. I feel very unsettling that those numbers are skewing the challenges of girls’ education. Who will be investing, and who needs to be investing in this issue? Are lacking money the critical barrier to solving gender gaps in education? On another note, authors in those two articles both had a positive outlook on the pandemic’s impact, saying that if the government can divert more resources to girls at this time, no serious consequences will happen. 

A more in-depth look at recent national and local media reports related to girls’ education in October would provide views on the contrary. The number is striking that 13 million girls are predicted not to be able to return to schools after the pandemic, as estimated by the UNSECO. Still, it can be more challenging to imagine those girls’ experiences, especially when reading in western media. In India, rural girls are hit the most by the pandemic. First comes the digital divide: boys are the ones who have access to smartphones but also the ones prioritized by the family to stay in schools when the family’s source of income is hindered. Then it is reported that without access to schools, girls are likely to experience inadequate food and nutrition, in addition to the increasing risks of domestic violence. Moving to Bangladesh, many underprivileged girls who have made a long way into nursing schools have to give up on their dream to find a job in the city and lead an independent life due to the economic hit caused by the COVID. In these local reports, authors provided us with the lived experience of individual girls who have once benefitted from increased chances to attend schools but are witnessing the closing doors to a more gender-equal future. However, once again, I wonder, who are to solve those problems? What can audiences do to help? 

It is essential to know both global data and individual stories and experiences to see a fuller picture. I also look forward to seeing more reports covering diverse stakeholders on an issue and engaging readers. 

Written by Echo Xu


  1. UNESCO. (2020, October). “A new generation: 25 years of efforts for gender equality in education 2020 Gender Report.” Retrieved November 07, 2020 from UNSECO.
  2. Citi GPS: Global Perspectives & Solutions. (2020, October). “THE CASE FOR HOLISTIC INVESTMENT IN GIRLS Improving Lives, Realizing Potential, Benefitting Everyone.” Retrieved November 07, 2020 from Plan Canada.
  3. Theo Golder. (2020, October 27). “Investing in getting girls through high school in developing countries could boost GDP by 10%, a Citi study shows” Retrieved November 07, 2020 from Business Insider.
  4. Business Wire. (2020, October 26). “Citi & Plan International: Investments Enabling Girls to Complete Secondary Education Could Boost GDP in Emerging Economies by 10%.” Retrieved November 04, 2020 from BusinessWire.
  5. Sonia Elks. (2020, October 27). “Keeping Girls in School Is Worth Billions to Developing Nations.” Retrieved November 07, 2020 from Global citizens. 
  6. Madeline Hislop. (2020, October 29). “Investing in girls’ education could see emerging economies boost GDP 10% by 2030.” Retrieved November 04, 2020 from Women’s Agenda.
  7. Jenelle Babb & Natalie Buchanan. (2020, November 05). “COVID-19 Leaves Millions of Girls at Risk of School Dropout in Asia-Pacific.” Retrieved November 07, 2020 from UNSECO NEWS.
  8. Viggo Stacey. (2020, October 27). “Girls’ education threatened by Covid – UNESCO.” Retrieved November 07, 2020 from The PIES News. 
  9. Jigyasa Mishra. (2020, October 13). “Covid 19 Impact – Online Classes Mean an End to Education for Girls in Rural Areas.” Retrieved November 04, 2020 from The Citizens.
  10. Farid Ahmed. (2020, October 17). “Changing the Lives of Bangladesh’s Rural Girls by Giving them a Tertiary Education.” Retrieved November 07, 2020 from IPS News.

Published by Echo Xu

Echo Xu is from Henan, China. She is a passionate believer in citizenship education and community empowerment in rural China. For the past two years, she has been designing and organizing art workshops to encourage the youngsters in rural Hainan to re-discover their land and culture’s beauty and value. Through this work, she has also learned the importance of educating young leaders in the community to participate and lead local development while increasing outside companies are entering this isolated village.

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