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G20 Will Never Get Women to Work Without Investing in Girls’ Education

Angela Merkel has put women’s empowerment on the G20 agenda this year. But the only way to fill the looming skills gap is for G20 members to lift their game on getting girls into school, argue Barry Johnston and Taylor Royle from the Malala Fund.

Written by Taylor Royle, Barry Johnston Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
India has the highest rates of girls missing school in the G20. AFP

In the midst of running for a fourth term as German chancellor, Angela Merkel next month will host the G20 Summit – the annual meeting of the world’s leading economies.

In setting the G20 agenda, Merkel indicates that she’s attempting to restore order and reaffirm long-standing global relationships as the United Kingdom negotiates its exit from the European Union, U.S. President Donald Trump refuses to mention Article 5 at NATO headquarters and instability spreads through countries around the world.

Merkel knows her G20 Summit must address a daunting list of problems – economic insecurity, prolonged conflicts, climate change, health crises – and do so amid increasingly hostile relationships between several G20 leaders.

In a political move aimed at getting the U.S. on board for her agenda, Merkel invited Ivanka Trump to the Women 20 conference in Berlin to discuss women’s economic empowerment, adding the topic to the agenda.

Merkel is right to focus on women’s role in shaping the global economy – today, only 46.6 percent of women participate in the labor market, compared to 76.1 percent of men.

But both in addressing challenges facing G20 countries and in empowering women, the chancellor is missing a critical a step: girls’ education.

In a recent report, we demonstrate that education affects economic growth, climate change, health and conflict. And we cannot increase the percentage of women participating in skilled work without increasing the number of educated girls.

Today, more than 130 million girls are out of school. Many of those who are in school aren’t achieving basic learning outcomes. Despite some progress, more girls are denied an education than boys, particularly at the secondary level, and this difference is exacerbated by poverty.

This is true even in G20 countries. Despite their relative wealth, this group includes countries, such as India and Indonesia, with some of the highest numbers of out-of-school girls, and together accounts for approximately one-third of the 130 million girls out of school around the world.

Beyond getting their own houses in order, the G20 should kick-start a global increase in funding for education. While global aid is rising, aid to education has fallen consistently for six years from 10 percent in 2009 to just 6.9 percent in 2015.

Only two G20 donor countries are dedicating the recommended 15 percent of their total aid to education, with the United States (3.7 percent) and Japan (3.9 percent) disbursing less than a third of that 15 percent. And for some countries that do give larger sums for education, much of it doesn’t leave their own borders: 95 percent of France’s education aid budget is actually spent in France through post-secondary scholarships and in-country student costs.

Amid falling support for education, the world faces a global skills crisis. UNESCO estimates that, by 2020, the world could have 40 million job vacancies, but not enough educated workers to fill them.

Basic education will fail to prepare children for the future needs of the job market. In the coming years, developing and emerging economies will face a surplus of low-skilled workers and a deficit of professionals, leading to unemployment and major gaps in the labor market.

To solve this problem, address other critical challenges and bring more women into the labor market, G20 leaders must commit to closing the global education funding gap. This includes funding multilateral agencies, like Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait, and addressing a proposal for a new financing mechanism for banks to lend money for education.

Ultimate accountability for getting girls into school rests with the countries where they live  –  and this is where the majority of resources must be mobilized.

The Education Commission calculates that lower-middle-income countries must increase their domestic public spending on education to 6 percent of GDP and upper-middle-income countries to 6.3 percent of GDP by 2030. Of the nine middle-income countries in the G20, none currently meets these targets.

The chancellor has set herself a huge challenge this year, but her priorities cannot be achieved without education.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and may not reflect those of Women & Girls.

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