Global coalition asks G7 for $1.3B for girls' education

Syrian refugee children in a Lebanese school classroom. Photo by: Russell Watkins / DFID / CC BY-SA

WHISTLER, Canada — A global coalition of humanitarian and development organizations are calling on leaders meeting at this week’s G-7 summit to commit $1.3 billion to educating children in crisis around the world. The group is asking G-7 president Canada to commit $500 million of that total.

“The gap is much bigger than $1.3 billion, but we’ve got to start somewhere. And $1.3 billion is moving the bar,” said Farah Mohamed, CEO of the Malala Fund. “We’ve given them a reasonable number. We’ve given them a number that the whole G-7 can commit to. This is not just for Canada to put money on table.”

Malala Fund founder Malala Yousafzai is a member of the Gender Advisory Council convened by Canada as part of its strategy to put women and girls at the center of its G-7 agenda. Each year, the host country of the informal bloc of seven of the world’s most advanced economies sets the agenda for its meetings, and this is the first time gender has had such a prominent role.

“You can’t talk trade and economic prosperity without looking at the roles of girls and women and gender equality.”

— Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver

Members of the coalition and development advocates say one of the biggest things developed countries can do to advance gender equality is invest in girls’ education. The need is particularly great in protracted crises.

World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, who represented the bank at last week’s development and finance ministerial in Whistler, told Devex the bank has recognized the importance of getting children, particularly girls, back into school in crisis situations. She said that early on in the Syrian civil war, she visited a refugee camp in Lebanon and spoke with a young Syrian refugee girl.

“I asked her, ‘What is it you most want?’ She said, ‘I want to go back to school.’ And at that time my heart sank in my stomach because I knew at that moment there was no way [she] would go to school,” Georgieva said. “We recognize that very often it is the girls left out.”

Reine — Devex is not using her last name out of security concerns — is a Lebanese youth activist who attended last week’s development ministerial to explain to development leaders the challenges adolescent girls, including refugees, face in her community. Lebanon currently hosts more than 1 million refugees from Syria, and many children displaced by the conflict have also been displaced from school.

“With the families of the refugee kids, especially girls, the priority is to provide basic needs, and education is unfortunately not the priority now,” Reine said through a translator. “But the problem is that when they get back to their country, they will get back to a generation of children and young women who are uneducated.”

While much of the G-7 agenda has been dominated by trade disputes, heads of state in Charlevoix, Quebec, will spend close to two hours on Saturday talking about gender equality, including access to education, according to the current agenda. Members of the Gender Advisory Council will brief them, followed by 45-minutes of question and answer.

Council member Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, said she remains hopeful women’s issues will break through the noise around trade disputes and geopolitics.

“You can’t talk trade and economic prosperity without looking at the roles of girls and women and gender equality,” said Iversen, who will brief the leaders. “This is relevant to any issue that is on the G-7 agenda. This is not a side issue. It is not a ‘nice to.’ It is a ‘need to.’”

Malala Yousafzai appealed to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally last year to encourage him to put education on the G7 agenda during his country’s 2018 presidency. In January, on a Davos panel alongside Yousafzai, Trudeau pledged an additional $180 million to the Global Partnership Education Fund. The global coalition, made up of Plan International Canada, Results Canada, Right to Play, Save the Children, UNICEF Canada and World Vision, wants Canada to boost its monetary commitment.

“If it happens and the world leaders take this commitment and support the education for children and especially for girls,” Reine said, “it means that we’re giving these girls and young women the hope for our future.”

Canadian Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has consistently stressed the importance of education in producing better development the outcomes for girls, but when asked by Devex last week whether Canada was prepared to commit the $500 million, she declined to confirm the pledge would be made.

“Stay tuned,” she said.

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About the author

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    Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh is a reporter with Devex based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa wrote about Latin America from McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She worked as a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.