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Education Is the Cure

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This week's international celebration of women is a vivid illustration of just how much the position of women in some countries around the world has improved over the past hundred years. But it also serves as a poignant reminder of how much work remains to be done in countries where injustice is endemic, discrimination rife and exploitation unreported.

For instance, it is simply unacceptable in 2012 that a teenage girl is five times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than a grown woman, and that childbirth is still the leading cause of death for teenage girls in the developing world.

While we continue to address the healthcare reasons behind these statistics, what's clear is that if these girls were in school, their lives would certainly be safer.

With just three years left before the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), only one of the original eight goals is now realistically achievable in full -- the goal of providing every child with an opportunity to receive a primary school education. For the sake of the world's children, and especially young women and girls in the world's poorest communities, we must work to make sure it is reached.

The education goal is particularly important because if we reach it, the result will unlock success in many other areas. After all, educated girls have better health outcomes, are less at risk of dying in childbirth, and have a greater chance of escaping poverty, getting a job and having healthy kids of their own.

The Global Campaign for Education has noted, in countries where the government makes education a national priority, progress has been made. When the MDGs were first launched, 130 million children were not attending primary school. Today that number has fallen to 67 million.

However, while much progress has been made, the countries with the most need often don't have the resources necessary to make major changes happen.

When we look at the countries where children are not in school, a large number -- perhaps as many as 30 million -- are in resource-rich countries that, frankly, could tackle the education crisis head-on and deliver success by the 2015 deadline.

But in many other parts of the world, this is not the case. This includes countries such as India, where 5.6 million children are not in school, Afghanistan, where 5 million are not in school, Ethiopia, where 2.75 million children do not attend primary school and Yemen, where there are 1 million children missing out on education.

So, how do we address this crisis? Well, it's going to take leadership, and it's going to take action from both the public and private sectors.

Many leaders in the political and business community -- from Her Highness Sheikha Mozah of Qatar to business leaders like Bill Green of Accenture or Dominic Barton of McKinsey to former Prime Ministers like my husband Gordon Brown and the Netherlands' J.P. Balkenende -- have been talking about the importance of education for years.

Today, the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown is working with these and other leaders to create a new Global Business Coalition, which will support and galvanize international action to achieve the 2015 Millennium Development Goals on education, while preparing the ground for an ambitious post-2015 agenda. Countries that lack resources will be able to draw on the Global Business Coalition to help reach every child, no matter how remote or rural their home.

Perhaps the hardest group of children to reach with schooling is those impacted by conflict or by natural disaster -- an estimated 28 million children. In countries like Haiti and Japan, earthquakes wiped out schools overnight. While emergency nutrition and health plans were rightly put into action in the aftermath of these disasters, we need an emergency education program that provides affected children with the schooling they need to keep their lives on track.

Such emergent needs for schooling currently exists in South Sudan, where the new government needs time to build the country's education system, and along the fragile border between Kenya and Somalia, where many Somali refugees currently reside.

That's why the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown is working with others to set up an Education without Borders initiative that would provide children living in conflict zones and fragile states with education, just as they are provided with humanitarian assistance. Education Without Borders would also provide safe spaces for schools in conflict areas. The first pilot projects are already underway in South Sudan and Kenya.

Education is the clearly the key to expanded opportunity around the world, as well as a source of prosperity, employment and social cohesion. Whether you are a champion of women's rights, a health advocate or human rights activist, education is one of the most fundamental sources of social advancement around the world.

It is heartening to see a growing movement of those committed to helping us realize the one Millennium Development Goal that can be reached by 2015. Let's seize this moment and commit, as a global community, to do everything in our power to hit the target.

If you would like to find out more about how you can help advance the cause of global education, please visit The Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown.