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Knowledge is power: why the UK is spending £100m on getting the world's poorest girls into school

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They say that knowledge is power. So what happens when women and girls are systematically deprived of an education?  

Globally, 63 million girls are currently out of school, and an estimated two-thirds of women cannot read or write. In sub-Saharan Africa, only two countries offer girls and boys an equal education, while in South and West Asia, 80% of uneducated girls are unlikely to ever set foot in a school.

As far as maintaining gender inequality goes, a lack of schooling is the most effective trick in the book. Deprived of the ability to make genuine choices about the life they want for themselves, uneducated women are far more likely to stay in the domestic sphere. And in countries where they’re already treated as second-class citizens, illiteracy ensures that underprivileged women are unable to make use of their (often already limited) legal rights.

Every girl has the right to an education – and the benefits are vast and wide-reaching. Educated girls are far less likely to be subjected to child marriage, and have fewer, healthier and better educated children themselves, meaning a better economy further down the line. And educated girls don’t just pull themselves out of poverty: according to UNICEF, women in developing countries tend to reinvest 90% of what they earn back into their families, meaning that whole communities reap the rewards.

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Girls on a "school boat" in Bangladesh, where huge efforts have been made to get more girls into education.

Now, the UK has pledged to spend £100m on getting some of the world’s most marginalised girls into education – and keeping them there.

British Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening announced the £100m funding commitment at the first Girls’ Education Forum in London on Thursday, hosted with Gucci-founded organisation CHIME FOR CHANGE and Global Citizen. The money is expected to help 175,000 of the poorest girls in developing countries.

Speaking exclusively to Stylist.co.uk, Greening said: “When you lift a girl out of poverty because she’s educated, in time you lift the whole country out of poverty too. So we were really delighted to be able to put a spotlight on girls’ education here today.

“But actually, it’s [about] much, much more than one day,” she continued. “This is about saying that the whole world now needs to focus on girls’ education, and getting girls who are out of school back into school.”

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Girls on the way to school in Zanzibar, Tanzania

VSO/ICS volunteer Bonavitha Gahaihi, 26, a youth unemployment officer from Tanzania, was at the forum. She told Stylist.co.uk that educating girls in Zanzibar, where she works, has a powerful knock-on effect. “We encourage girls to participate fully, because the girls around the [Zanzibari] coast are not really engaged in school,” she says. “We build their confidence so that they understand how important education is for their lives – and then, they encourage other girls to participate.”

The forum, the culmination of Global Citizen’s #SheWill campaign, was followed by an event at the top of the Shard with music from Laura Mvula and Tom Odell. In attendance were #SheWill supporters, who won tickets by taking part in online ‘actions’ via the Global Citizen website – from signing petitions to tweeting and emailing politicians about the value of girls’ education for girls.

Images: Getty, iStock

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