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Why educating women and girls is key to achieving SDGs

Equal access to education is a right. Fulfilling this right is key to addressing some of the most pressing challenges of our time, from lack of health care to climate change and violence against women.

There are numerous issues that prevent girls from fulfilling their right to education. These issues range from social and gender norms to financial barriers, and harmful traditional practices. In some countries, there are stigmas attached to the education of women and girls, and as a result, untapped human potential and gender inequality persist.

The outcome is that countries become trapped in a complex web of economic paralysis, poverty, poor health, and gender-based violence. Women are not only affected by these problems but also possess ideas and leadership to solve them. The gender discrimination which holds many women back holds the world back too.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015 embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind. Educating and empowering women and girls is integral to each of the 17 goals.

Educating women & girls is key to achieving SDGs | WONDER Foundation

Educating women and girls reduces poverty and hunger (SDG1 and SDG2)

WONDER’s mission is to empower vulnerable people through education. With local and long-term projects we support them escaping poverty, leveraging the potential offered by education and employment. In fact, we strongly believe that good work (defined as employment with good pay, conditions and prospects) can end poverty.

Education leading to good employment can break the cycle of poverty for families, and for the next generations. According to research by the World Bank, for every extra year of primary education, a girl’s individual wage rate increases an average of 10–20% and 25% with an extra year of secondary school. Furthermore, 90% of a mother’s wage goes towards caring for her family, thus lifting a household out of poverty and hunger.

Educating women and girls leads to improved health and well-being (SDG3)

Educated women are more equipped to provide enhanced nutrition and education support to their children. Healthy, educated children become more productive members of society.

According to a study by UNESCO, if all women had primary education, there would be 15% fewer child deaths. If all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving almost 3 million lives across the globe.

The same UNESCO study also found that if all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would decrease by 60%, saving approximately 98,000 lives.

Quality education is key to empowering women and girls (SDG4)

Quality education and lifelong learning are at the heart of WONDER’s mission. With quality education, women can support themselves, they have the skills necessary to improve their own health, make proper decisions for their overall well-being, and advance their employment and leadership prospects. Consequently, they can contribute productively as members of their communities.

Educating women and girls leads to gender equality (SDG5 and SDG10)

Gender inequality is reflected in many ways, including income disparity, wage discrimination, gender norms and gender-based violence. By advancing women and girls’ education, women and girls are more likely to realize their potential, exercise their human rights and contribute to society. Educated girls will form the next generation of women leaders and make significant advances toward bridging the gender gap.

Clean water and sanitation and education of women and girls are closely linked (SDG6)

Educated girls are more likely to learn about hygiene and improved water sanitation through schools or other programs. Considering that in 80% of households with water shortages, women and girls are responsible for water collection, empowerment through education has the potential to bring important changes in water-related practices too.

Additionally, girls often miss out on school, as they are collecting water. Lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools can also prevent girls from attending school, especially during their menstrual period.

Educating women and girls can impact affordable and clean energy (SDG 7)

Affordable, clean energy fuels sustainable development, such as by providing the light that allows a child to do her homework or the power that a woman uses to run sewing machines for her business. The lack of modern energy sources has major consequences for women and girls, who are often the primary household energy managers.

Empowering women can have a profound impact on SDG7, by helping households make an informed decision on energy matters. Educated girls are also more likely to be innovative and advance new ideas such as reliable modern energy services.

Educating women and girls improves access to decent work and economic growth (SDG 8)

Women with an education are more likely to work, create economic growth and develop their communities. According to the World Bank’s study in 100 countries, every 1% increase in the number of women with a secondary education yields an increase of 0.3 percentage points in the country’s annual per capita income growth rate. For example, if India had a 1% increase in girls in secondary school, their GDP would increase by $5.5 billion.

Additionally, education narrows pay gaps and increases a woman’s chance of entering the formal economy. By improving access to the formal sector, women can expect better social protections, improved rights at work, and safer working conditions.

Educating women and girls leads to advancements in industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG9)

Educating women and girls can create an environment that encourages innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. Furthermore, educating girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects also increases sustainable industries, and investing in scientific research and innovation helps to facilitate sustainable development.

Educating women and girls increases responsible consumption (SDG12)

When women and girls can access information about how to adapt to a changing climate, they can play an instrumental role in reducing consumption. They can also contribute to the resilience of their families and communities. In fact, UNICEF says that educating girls and women is one of the best ways of strengthening communities on climate change.

Educating women and girls increases awareness in the well-being of the environment and climate action (SDG13, SDG14 and SDG15)

Women and girls are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They are also the most powerful agents of change. Providing women and girls with relevant education about climate change and the environment allows them to contribute to sustainable development in their communities.

Educating women and girls leads to peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG16)

Women and girls must be included in the process of achieving peace, justice and strong institutions. Gender discrimination must be overcome so that all women can have access to these essential rights.

Women and girls who receive an education are more likely to seek justice and tackle discrimination such as gender-based violence or other injustices as they are more aware of their rights. They are also more likely to be active citizens and leaders in their communities.

Educating women and girls leads to partnerships for sustainable development (SDG17)

We work with local organizations to achieve a more sustainable world, together. In fact, we were founded on the values of solidarity and partnership. We work with locally-led partners around the world to help women, girls and their families because we believe this is the most effective and sustainable way to achieve long-lasting change.

Awareness of the importance of women and girls’ education must be raised all over the world — and urgently. At present, 132 million primary and secondary-aged girls are not in school. This affects us all. What has been shown above are just a few examples of how the education of girls and women can enable us to achieve sustainable development globally by meeting the targets of the SDGs.

Learn more about SDGs on this website.