What Does It Take to Educate a Girl? (and Why Does It Matter?)

For millions of girls around the world, going to school is a life dream that's out of reach. Why? Early marriage, child labor, pregnancy, lack of access, violence. Solving the problem is a gauntlet deeply grounded in cultural traditions and the ripple effects of poverty -- seemingly impossible.

In 2000, then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued the challenge: How can the nations of the world work together to stop the gender inequality around education?

His declaration, a formal recognition of the terrible tragedy of leaving an entire generation of girls behind, established the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI), a partnership that includes UNICEF and other organizations working around the world to provide equal access to education to girls by 2015. And as it turns out, educating girls is not just a moral duty or altruistic pursuit. As data from UNICEF and others now document, providing girls in the developing world with an education is a key link in the fight to alleviate global poverty and its many implications, including HIV/AIDs, challenges with sustainable development, and on and on.

And from an individual perspective, denying education to a girl makes her vulnerable -- it increases her risk of exploitation, abuse, poverty and disease.

But now, ten years after the UN's challenge, a remarkable trend is evident.

According to UNGEI, 110 million children around the world were not in primary school a little more than a decade ago, and two-thirds of these children were girls. And ten years later, 72 million children are not in school, with girls comprising roughly one-half of those children. Clearly, work remains to be done, but it's a dramatic difference -- and spotlights the achievable goal made possible with the dedication and work of grassroots volunteers, activities, local governments, and of course, the girls themselves.

This week on ViewChange.org, the global development storytelling platform operated by nonprofit global TV network Link TV, a special premiere of a remarkable documentary film showcases the incredible struggle of girls in Nepal and Uganda, two countries struck by poverty and emerging from conflict. To Educate a Girl, produced by award-winning filmmakers Frederick Rendina and Oren Rudavsky, was commissioned and supported by UNGEI and UNICEF to tell the stories of this struggle -- from the perspective of girls and their communities. The film opens with an introduction by UNGEI Honorary Chair, Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, who is known for her tireless efforts to promote girls' education around the world.

The goal year -- 2015 -- looms right around the corner, and the chances are high that true gender parity in education can actually be achieved. It would be a stunning victory in global development. With attention, with action, with reinforced calls for the importance of saving the lives of millions of girls, it can be done.