Today I will talk about women’s and girls’ access to education and nutrition as the foundation from which they can develop crucial skills and knowledge for success in the workplace. The day a girl is born, she is already placed at a competitive disadvantage as regards her male counterparts. Discrimination and socially defined gender roles will narrow a girl’s opportunities from infancy, creating a knock-on effect throughout her life.
When a family living in poverty is faced with school fees, parents are far more likely to send their sons to school over their daughters. Daughters will also face a much higher burden of domestic chores. At present, some 31 million girls worldwide do not attend primary school. We all know that there is a strong link between early child development and success in later life. The rate of return on school fees for earning per additional year of schooling is 9.7%. Those girls may never even learn how to read or write—a huge lost potential.
I commend DfID’s considerable support for helping girls, and particularly marginalised girls, access education. Between 2010 and 2015, the department supported 5.3 million girls, but there is still a significant financing gap in education and it is often the girls who miss out. If we are to widen the employment opportunities available to women, DfID needs to focus on supporting the delivery of free, quality and inclusive education systems that address gender inequalities and do not leave children behind. Even if a girl manages to complete primary school, the barriers to accessing secondary education will multiply. As other noble Lords have mentioned, an adolescent girl’s education is too often cut short by forced marriage and early pregnancy.