Experts say G-7 'makes no sense' on girls' education amid UK aid cuts

Musahar girls attend a class in the Terai region of Nepal. Photo by: Street Child

The G-7 ministers’ declaration on girls’ education made “no sense,” as the United Kingdom has already canceled aid programs supporting female students across the world, according to experts.

A London meeting of foreign and development ministers from the G-7 group of nations concluded with a communiqué and declarations on girls’ education, famine prevention and humanitarian crises, and COVID-19 and pandemic preparedness.

But the U.K. government’s aid budget cuts — which are still being carried out — have undermined the education ambitions of the G-7 host country, observers told Devex. The Center for Global Development think tank estimates that education spending has been cut by around 40% as a result of reducing the country’s aid spending target from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%.

In the education declaration, the G-7 ministers — working to an agenda set by the U.K. — called for 40 million more girls in school and 20 million more girls reading at 10 years of age, both by 2026 in lower-income countries.

“Championing a G-7 famine commitment while simultaneously slashing humanitarian support to countries on the verge of famine ... is illogical and hypocritical.”

— Simon Bishop, CEO, The Power of Nutrition

“We, the G7, share a commitment to placing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at the heart of our work to build back better,” said the declaration. “Nowhere is our resolve stronger than in addressing the global set-back in girls’ education.”

Tom Dannatt, CEO at NGO Street Child, said this was a “tough line to take seriously when the phone calls I’ve been involved in the first half of this week have been about how we close down our girls’ education programs.”

Dannatt told Devex that two active programs, one in Nepal and another in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had been canceled by the government and given 90 days to close.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “On the face of it, these are great pronouncements. But they fly in the face of the reality that we’re being asked to enact at the moment, which is to close down very good projects working on precisely the issues described as what the G-7 want to focus on in extremely impoverished communities.”

The Street Child project in Nepal focused on girls from the highly maligned Musahar ethnic group, whose girls’ literacy rates are just 4%. “If that’s not a category of girls you want to work with, what is?” asked Dannatt. And in DRC’s remote, conflict-affected South Kivu province, Dannatt said: “We’re the only NGO working in that region with education protection programs on any scale. … If we close our program down, nobody’s doing anything for girls in that community.”

Dannatt added that he had not expected live programs to be ended when the cut to the aid budget was announced and that major work investment had gone into the programs before they began. “This makes no sense from a value-for-money perspective. … There’s no science behind this [cut],” he added.

Susannah Hares, co-director of education policy at the Center for Global Development, echoed this sentiment. She said: “If I saw this declaration six months ago, I could probably pick holes around the edges, but I would generally think it was good. ... But with the cuts that have basically slashed everything else that they do on education apart from girls’ education, it just doesn’t make as much sense. I’m not sure what happens to boys now, for example.”

Hares added that the pandemic’s full effects on education were not yet known, which could potentially impede a proper response.

Exclusive: Girls' education hit as UK small charities funding 'wiped out'

The U.K. aid cuts include a program that educates girls working as domestic laborers in Bangladesh, as the funds that support small NGOs have also been eliminated.

Rose Caldwell, CEO at Plan International UK, said the declaration would be “nothing but more empty promises from the U.K. government” unless it was backed up by funding. She called on the government to reconsider the aid cuts.

The G-7 ministers, led by the U.K., also published a famine prevention and humanitarian crises compact, which brought further criticism from NGOs. “Championing a G-7 famine commitment while simultaneously slashing humanitarian support to countries on the verge of famine, like Yemen and South Sudan, is illogical and hypocritical, as well as self-defeating as it damages the U.K.’s reputation among key partners,” said Simon Bishop, CEO at The Power of Nutrition advocacy group.

“The targets agreed will not be achieved without ambitious financing to back them up,” echoed a Save the Children statement.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.