A new report from TEDxLondon Headline Partner Citi and Plan International reveals the impact of girls' education on their lives and local economies.

Citi’s Global Perspectives and Solutions economists found that an investment of just over £1 a day for each girl between 5 and 17 years old in the eight countries studied would boost their GDP by 10%.

The importance of girls’ education has been highlighted at both TEDxLondon and TEDxLondonWomen in recent years: in Payzee Mahmod’s talk on child marriage, Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi’s conversation on diversity in education, and artist Jayisha Patel’s short film about the experiences of girls in India in our 2019 exhibition. Readers of last year’s TEDxLondon Beyond Borders newspaper may recall Ravinol Chambers telling us about his documentary Road to Change, on girls’ education in India.

So we were excited to read new research by TEDxLondon’s Headline Partner Citi and charity Plan International that marks a step forward in understanding this issue. First, it quantifies the impact on girls and women themselves of missing out on education. Second, it demonstrates the difference that girls’ education can make to the whole of the society they live in.

Education is transformative to the lives of girls, and not just in terms of knowledge and job prospects. The report highlights the finding that if all girls completed 12 years of education, early and forced marriage rates would drop by 64%. Every extra year of primary school increases a girl’s income by 10-20%, and each year of secondary school by 15-25%.

Gender equality is impossible without a change in how girls are educated. Only one in four countries has equality between girls and boys in upper secondary school enrolment. One in ten girls worldwide do not even finish primary school. In most countries, including the richer parts of the world, women take on a disproportionate share of household work and childcare.

COVID-19 has intensified this problem, creating some hidden risks as well as the obvious ones. During the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, when most schools were closed to reduce infection, teenage pregnancies increased by 60%. The danger now is that this repeats on a wider scale.

Addressing these inequalities and challenges may not seem like the top priority for governments worried about how to recover from the pandemic. But the report identifies a new opportunity: a transformation in economic growth for those countries who can solve this problem.

Investing in the education of girls is important to give girls and women themselves a better life, but now we know it can also create huge economic returns for the places they live. A full education for all girls would increase GDP in 2030 by 10% across the eight countries studied in the research*. Beyond that date, the returns would be even greater.

“The special value of the collaboration between Citi and Plan International comes through bringing together the economic and social case, and presenting a solid multi-component investment case,” said Andrew Pitt, Global Head of Research at Citi.

The Citi GPS report recommends multiple interventions: investment in education, policy changes on child marriage and protection from violence, and changes in narratives and social norms on equality and household roles. Each of these in turn would increase successful completion of education, improving labour market participation, productivity and income.

The economic returns come from giving women the opportunity to take better jobs and be more productive, but also the ability to control their own lives. With more choice over fertility, better literacy to know their rights and how to enforce them, and more freedom to choose how to live their lives, girls and women can achieve strides in their own quality of life. Their societies will benefit socially as well as economically.

Economic researchers from Plan International and Citi Global Insights find that the returns on this investment would pay back its cost and much more. This research could therefore help to make the political case for girls’ education in each country, and make it easier for international donors and organisations to support. In some countries the investment pays for itself immediately, while others might need external support to help them invest for a few years before the changes become self-financing. On average, the investment needed is just £1.18 per day for each girl and the returns are nearly 3 times the amount spent. That adds up to £740 billion in extra yearly income, in these eight countries alone.

To make this happen, the research calls for collaboration between private companies, governments, NGOs and philanthropy. Companies and donors who want to make the biggest possible impact may see this new data as a powerful catalyst to help them do so.

The report covers much more: from the discrimination and stereotyping that can reinforce girls’ exclusion from education to how lack of education puts girls at risk of physical and sexual violence. As Citi’s Andrew Pitt points out, the many positive outcomes of this educational investment could help fulfil several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs 4 and 5 specifically relate to education and gender equality, but giving girls an equal and supported start in life would also create progress towards several of the other goals including those targeting climate change, conflict and poverty.

* Bolivia, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, India, Laos, Mali and Uganda

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