Insights and Analysis

A Skilled Global Girls Workforce

October 10, 2018

By Pratyusha Sibal

October 11 marks the eighth annual celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child, established by the United Nations to address the challenges that continue to confront girls around the world. This year’s theme, With Her: A Skilled Girl Force, begins a year-long commitment by the global community to increase learning opportunities and build the skills of a new generation of girls preparing to enter adulthood and the global workforce.

On September 24, at the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General António Guterres unveiled Youth 2030: Working with and for Young People, the UN’s strategy for youth under the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. There are 1.8 billion young people in the world today, the strategy document notes, close to 90 percent of them in developing countries, where they constitute a large proportion of the population and “a tremendous and essential asset worth investing in.”

At the same time, young people are also facing incredible challenges and even life-threatening risks, disproportionately carried by girls and young women in many parts of the world.

Historically and globally, this disproportionate risk reflects the continuing effects of gender inequality. Women and girls are too often subjected to violence and discrimination and denied fundamental rights such as access to adequate health care, quality education, and decent work.

Education itself is the single most important key to overcoming gender inequality. The higher a woman’s educational attainment, the more autonomy she has over her personal and professional decisions, even when gender norms are restrictive. In South Asia, where this author was born and raised, years-long efforts to achieve gender equality in basic education—efforts ranging from grants and scholarship programs to recruiting more qualified female teachers—have shown decisive results. A 2017 UNESCO study found that female literacy in South Asia has increased threefold in the last 50 years, from 27 percent to 86 percent, while the the UNDP reports that primary-school enrollment increased from 74 girls for every 100 boys in 1990 to parity in 2012.

Despite this encouraging progress, however, there are still many roadblocks for girls in education. In school, girls often face subtle discouragement from factors such as lack of female teachers, lack of appropriate sanitary facilities, and vulnerability to harassment and violence that society continues to subtly condone. This contributes to the fact that boys still complete primary school at higher rates than girls, and girls’ secondary-school enrollment and completion rates remain lower than boys in South Asia. Prevailing social norms devalue girl children, while sons are looked upon as providers and protectors of the family, leading parents to prioritize a son’s education over a daughter’s when resources are limited.

It is essential to recognize that educating girls and boys stops the intergenerational cycle of poverty, and that girls’ education especially leads to healthier and better-educated families. Closing the gender gap in education also fuels economic growth, in turn reducing poverty, as young girls who receive an education go on to more gainful employment and a higher standard of living.

Children at Sri Rahula vidyala. Rahula vidyalaya is a recipient of books from The Asia Foundation’s Book For Asia project. Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe

In an era of rapid economic growth and rising aspirations, South Asia cannot afford to consign half its population to discrimination, ignorance, and dependency. Girls and women in South Asia must have the resources and tools to challenge stereotypes, realize the power of their voices, and achieve their highest social and personal potential. Women have their own experiences and unique perspectives to contribute to a thriving society. In the words of Meghan Markle, the duchess of Sussex, to the United Nations, “Girls with dreams become women with vision.”

As an only child in India, I was fortunate to have parents who dismissed outdated stereotypes and valued a girl’s potential. Education for young girls should be not a choice, but an inherent human right. Empowering them is not just an end, but a means to a better future for all of society. On this day, as we address the challenges and celebrate the successes of young girls, this awareness must be translated into collective action giving girls the opportunity to thrive and grow.

Pratyusha Sibal is an intern with The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program in Washington, DC. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.


  1. Point well made. Cant agree more. Being a single girl child I feel fortunate that my parents focussed much on my education. Education is the first step towards their empowerment.

  2. Couldn’t agree more, well researched, incisive writing and great thought!

  3. Pratyusha has truly depicted status of girls in this part of the world. we need to educate girls that is the key once they got to schools they are educated most of the problems would be resolved. Recent initiative by government of india regarding ” Beti bachao, beti padhao” that means save girl and teach tem has broght changes in the mindset and results are quite encouraging.
    i think each one of us can contribute our bit in this campaign of educating a girl child. lets do it …

  4. thoroughly researched , a well written article. To quote your quote “Girls with dreams become women with vision.”

  5. Excellent article. Very pertinent points made. It is imperative for us as a society especially in South Asia to work for education and empowerment of the girl child. It is only then we can hope to develop as a nation/region as well as bring in overall economic prosperity.

  6. A very realistic and sensitive insight, to a very deep rooted social disparity. Worth reading.

  7. Very nicely written piece, and important questions for the policy makers & planners. The onus now lies more on we the citizens & more as Parents – if we want the status of education to improve especially for girls we need to become better parents. And if we want girls to become visionaries, we need our boys to understand that they are not privileged & endowed with gifts that they could take for granted. I congratulate Pratyusha Sibal for writing this piece.

  8. An excellent perspective on the issues and challenges faced by girls and women around the world particularly in Asia. The writer has done a commendable job in analysing this topic with clinical precision. There is no denying the fact that the overall development of any country is directly proportionate to the empowerment of the women folk of that country. This is the reason why the European countries continue to prosper whereas the third world countries continue to languish in abject poverty. Also,certain theological states are guilty of denying the basic human rights to their women, resulting in widening the gender inequality. When the woman’s rights are violated in such countries, the developed world becomes the silent spectator, thereby emboldening such anti-women systems. The UN also must share the responsibility of not doing enough to bridge the gender inequality gap. If it can’t impose strict sanctions on all those countries which are violating the rights of women, it is merely doing lip service to the cause. To end this gender disparity, the UN must take an unprecedented stance and unequivocally support the cause of actual women empowerment. However, to achieve a permanent success, women, who are the victims of gender biases and facing violations of their rights, must take the lead now and become the torch bearers of their rights . People from the evolved societies must lend the helping hands in sustaining this movement.

  9. Very well thought through – the most important aspect of education is the chance it will hopefully bring about in the misogynistic mindset that previals in contries like India

  10. Very incisive, apt and timely reminder for everyone to prioritise to educate the girl-child.

    I totally agree with the author’s key takeaway: “Education for young girls should be not a choice, but an inherent human right.”

  11. I am so glad that a girl like you has expressed herself over a cause that is so relevant. I feel that in the educated urban setup, the indices of discrimination are different and may thereby subtly escape the established parameters of sensing the issue at hand. However, while bright young minds like you engage with the issue, I still have hope…

  12. Very well written article. Education is the panacea to a lot of problems faced by the girls. We have to also improve the economy because the more the economic conditions improve the more the parents will allow their daughters to go to school and the lesser the dropouts. The attitude of the male child had to be changed too….

  13. perfect write-up… gender inequality is a great deal in Nigeria and the way forward is compulsory and essential education for both the male and female gender.

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