As we celebrate Women's History Month to remember and honor the great women who have influenced our lives, we have yet to think about the future of the next generation of women to come. Women and girls around the world need and deserve a just education which will nurture their ambitions. Unfortunately, the disparity in education between girls and boys continues to grow in the third world.
Today, education is a prized commodity which we in the West take for granted. Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for Global Education speaking at the Women of the World (WOW) Festival in London said the West spends an average of $100,000 on primary and secondary schooling per student versus a meager $400 in Africa. Thus, it is not surprising that according to UNESCO, only 3 percent of children are out of school in North America and Western Europe in comparison with 45 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, of which 60 percent are girls.
The need for more schools and properly qualified teachers is critical in accommodating the large numbers of these children. Although Brown's aim is to school 32 million girls by the year 2015 through building more schools, anxiety remains for the quality of education that will be provided. There is an excessive danger that students will fall into religious, racist or sexual indoctrination if their teachers are not vetted properly. Many governments may be reluctant in processing official vetting procedures due to the costs. Therefore, it is essential that international support and pressure on these countries remain strong and focused in order to facilitate this gradual change. An example of this success is Pakistan, which last year voted for compulsory free schooling for both girls and boys.
Also speaking at the WOW festival was Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Malala, a young girl shot by the Taliban in Pakistan merely for wanting an education. Yousafzai, now an education campaigner, said we must close the gender gap in education and make this a priority for the near future. He also said, "Education is the key to unlocking women's leadership qualities" and gives young girls the tools necessary to become independent in society. At the conference, I asked Mr Yousafzai what advice he would give the young girls in Pakistan desperate for an education. He replied saying; they should not give up hope as every child deserves a chance for learning. In addition, he also said "the media can play a big part in letting the public know the importance and the value of an educated child".
Mr. Brown will hold a series of meetings on April 17 and 18 as he meets with World Bank President Jim Kim and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Washington DC, to tackle a new strategy for global girls education by 2015. In addition, Mr. Brown announced Malala Day to be held on July 12, her 16th birthday: A day designed to push the new strategy in place, to empower young girls through the means of education.
There are some tough times ahead for Mr. Brown and no doubt some push backs from certain governments with cultural and religious restrictions. However, children deserve a chance for a better future and a hope to fulfil their dreams of becoming a doctor or an astronaut. The young girls should be liberated in classrooms for learning instead of confined to gruelling labor or child marriages. The future of the next generation of girls is crucial if we are ever to break this grinding cycle and create a new safe world for our many generations to come.