We Must Stand Up for Out-of-School Girls

With marches, meetings, speeches and articles around the world, we celebrate and reflect today on the achievement of women around the world as we celebrate International Women's Day. It gives us a chance to focus briefly on how far we've come in achieving gender equality in all aspects of life. We also must reflect on how far we have to go.

Women's equality -- as any woman anywhere will tell you -- will never be achieved as long as girls are subject to the threats, abuse and marginalization that still happens in many places around the world. In poverty, when parents are left with only bad options (such as to marry off one daughter to prevent the rest of the family from starving) it is not an easy life for boys either. Yet the evidence shows that girls are more likely to lack protection from child marriage, child trafficking, sexual abuse and other forms of violence and more likely to be kept out of school, despite the evidence of the great protective powers of every single year of education.

World leaders continue to deliver passionate rhetoric on the importance of education for all children, especially for girls and the most marginalized. We've not only agreed as a world that access to a free primary education is a human right, we promised in 2000 with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to achieve this by 2015.

It's 2015 and at the current pace, the last poor girl in Africa will have a seat in the classroom in 2086.

Shame on us.

Shame on countries that have the means, but are not investing in strategies to get the most marginalized kids in school and shame on decision-makers in donor countries who lack the ambition and commitment to keep their promise to support countries that are working hard or lack the means to achieve Education for All on their own.

On the human right to a free primary education and the promise to get all children everywhere in school by 2015 we've failed to do the most important thing, put our money where our mouth is. Developing countries, the poorest countries in the world, have scaled up financing in the last 15 years, some of them exponentially, yet funding from the richest countries is in steady decline. Cries of financial crisis in most countries must be greeted with skepticism because while funding for global education has declined by nearly 20%, funding for global health has increased by nearly 60 percent. The resources are there. Decisions have been made not to spend them on education.

The bottom line. In the growing equality of women in self-determination, dignity, freedom from exploitation, equal pay and many other aspects of our lives, education, (our ability to access it, afford it and have what we need to excel) underpins all of these achievements.

We are not serious about women's rights and progress until we invest what's needed to stand up for out-of-school girls everywhere.

This post is part of a series by Huffington Post in partnership with A World At School's, Girls Stand #UpForSchool petition launch on International Women's Day 2015. There are currently 31 million girls around the world who will never see a single day of school, denied the right to learn to benefit their lives, their families and their communities. This launch is part of a wider petition that will be delivered to world leaders to ensure they keep a promise to get every girl and boy into school and learning by the end of 2015. Find out more and sign at upforschool.org.

Kolleen Bouchane is the Director of Policy and Research for the Global Business Coalition for Education and the Director of Policy and Advocacy for A World At School.