The Charlevoix G7 Summit Communique recognises gender equality as a fundamental human right and as imperative for equitable sustainable growth. It offers an unprecedented commitment to quality education for girls in developing countries, particularly those living in conflict-affected and fragile states. This is a crucial step towards achieving girls’ and women’s empowerment and economic equality. Amid a challenging political backdrop, the Communique’s recognition of adolescent girls is to be applauded.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has, this month, championed 12 years of quality education for girls but, with 130 million girls currently missing out, how the G7’s commitments are strategically deployed will be crucial. ODI’s recent research on education, gender and social exclusion suggests seven key actions will be critical to ensuring the effective delivery of the Communique’s goals.
Focus on gender-sensitive curricula and real-world skills
The G7 recognises that quality education for girls drives improved health and life outcomes. The focus must now be on how to best deliver gender-sensitive curricula and a broad set of skills relevant to the real-world needs of adolescent girls, that also enables them to tackle the discriminatory norms they face.
The removal of ‘barriers to women’s leadership’ requires participatory pedagogies that foster critical thinking, communication, negotiation and leadership skills. This should be twinned with the promotion of market-based skills – including technical and vocational education and training (TVET) – and digital literacy.
Research has also shown that practical information on puberty and adolescent transitions (delivered through comprehensive sexuality education) is key to providing the opportunity to thrive into adulthood.
Tackle age- and gender-based violence in schools
The Charlevoix commitment to end sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has a strong focus on addressing SGBV in digital contexts, but tackling widespread age- and gender-based violence in schools has not received the attention it deserves.
Strategic investments in education must include: promoting ‘positive discipline’ approaches in teachers’ colleges; establishing a zero-tolerance policy for teacher–student violence; strengthening reporting, monitoring and accountability systems; and investing in anti-bullying and anti-sexual harassment awareness-raising among students, teachers and the wider community.
Identify what is needed for ‘inclusive’ education
The Communique, the commitment to quality education for girls and the G7’s Gender Equality Advisory Council’s recommendations have a welcome focus on equity and supporting learning pathways for the ‘especially vulnerable and often excluded from school, such as girls with disabilities’.
However, more specificity on the needs of adolescents with diverse types of impairments is needed – as is clarity on what ‘inclusive’ education means in practice. This requires identifying when adapted infrastructure and specialist teachers are needed and putting in place social protection support and community outreach efforts that address the stigma faced by young people with disabilities.
Greater attention must also be paid to addressing the needs of married girls, those with children, ethnic and linguistic minorities, and those living in remote rural areas.
Learn the lessons of recent crises to scale education in conflict-affected contexts
The G7’s funding commitments to girls’ education in conflict-affected contexts are unprecedented, and the Charlevoix Declaration specifies the importance of improving coordination between development and humanitarian actors, supporting non-formal education and girls’ need for safe transport to and from school in these unstable environments.
As funds are dispersed it is vital that lessons are learned from recent crises. In particular, this must include: leveraging existing community organisations to set up national platforms; investing in double shift schools; building bridges to help adolescents return to formal education; and delivering cash transfers to offset the real and opportunity costs of educating especially older adolescents.
Invest in evidence-informed programmes designed to accommodate impact evaluations
The focus on improving disaggregated data is another welcome step towards understanding girls’ gender- and age-specific needs. We must also invest in evidence-informed programming that speaks to what works to support adolescent girls reach their potential. Instead of relying on post-programming evaluations there is an urgent need for programmes to be designed – from the outset – to accommodate impact evaluations.
Renew ‘0.7%’ ODA commitments and allocate 10% to education
While the CA$3.8 billion investment in girls’ education in conflict and crisis-affected settings represents an important advance, the final G7 communiques and commitments fail to address the learning crisis unfolding across the developing world more generally.
UNESCO estimates that in order to provide all children with 12 years of quality education, donors must provide low- and lower-middle income countries with $39 billion a year in aid. An important first step to closing the funding gap will be a renewal by OECD donors of their commitment to allocate 0.7% of national income to international aid – and at least 10% of that should be allocated to education.
Strengthen accountability mechanisms
Given that ambitious funding commitments repeatedly fail to materialise, it is essential that accountability mechanisms are strengthened. Efforts must include a renewed commitment to the OECD DAC gender marker, the appointment of gender champions at senior levels in donor and UN agencies (as well as in developing country governments) and genuine opportunities for adolescent girl representatives to contribute to efforts to hold G7 members accountable.
Nicola Jones presented on education and adolescent girls’ empowerment to the G7 Finance and Development Ministers meeting ahead of the finalisation of this year’s declarations and Communique.