04/03/2013 06:24 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2013

Why We Need to Educate Girls

Last month, Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl who had been shot by the Taliban near her home in Pakistan, returned to school in Birmingham, UK. It was a truly happy moment and marked a major step in her recovery. But there are all too many reminders of the challenges facing girls who seek an education in many parts of the world, and also the brave teachers who offer it. Just last week, a Pakistani woman was killed by Taliban gunmen on her way to the school where she taught.

The data confirming the importance of girls' education are becoming increasingly familiar. When girls are educated, society benefits, through better health outcomes, higher crop yields, and an average rise of 3 percent in a country's GDP. On an individual level -- and increasingly necessary in an urbanized world -- education gives children the skills and values they will need for lifelong learning and professional success. Furthermore, as UNICEF points out, as long as equal education is unachievable for girls, gender equality will remain a pipe dream.

So it is heartening to see what great work is being done in this area. In parts of India, educators are drawing on the Teach for America model, bringing better education to big city slums. In Rwanda, the Akilah Institute for Women -- one of the groups my foundation has worked with -- teaches essential skills to women who want to succeed in the workplace. Other groups in Africa, like the Forum for African Women Educationalists, are striving to redress the gender imbalance in primary schools that persists across the continent.

It is imperative that we support and celebrate the people who are dedicating their lives to girls' schooling, especially when some of them, like the late Shahnaz Nazli in Pakistan, are literally putting their own lives at risk. If we continue to work on this issue, I believe that one day soon we will have a world where all children have access to education -- which, in turn, will allow them to thrive and contribute fully to their communities and their countries.