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Girls' Education

Girls’ education matters

When girls are educated, they are healthier, communities are more likely to be stable and the local and national economy is strengthened.

Yet, an estimated 132 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 worldwide are out of school. Half of these (67.4 million) are girls of upper secondary school age.

Girls of all ages face many barriers to education. These include poverty, cultural norms, distance to school and unsafe learning environments. Girls can experience pressures to stay at home, especially if they come from a poor rural household. They may be required to care for a sick relative or to help with household chores.

Many schools are not girl friendly. They lack separate toilet facilities, soap, water, and safe menstruation resources. One in ten African girls miss school during their period. Early pregnancies and early marriage result in girls dropping out of school.

Girls education is lagging behind

Every girl has the right to education but there are 39 million 11-15-year-old girls out of school today (UNESCO 2012).

Primary school completion for girls and transition to secondary school lags behind that for boys, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The world has made great progress in increasing the enrolment of girls in primary school. But if the benefits of education are to be realised, girls’ attendance at school - not just their enrolment must improve.

Girls’ transition, from primary to secondary is also essential if girls are to achieve a level of education that will be of benefit.

In Zambia, for example, girls are far more likely to drop out of school. 27% of women in rural areas have no education compared to 18% of males. Pregnancy, early marriage and poverty are intrinsically linked and are the main challenges Zambian girls face in staying in school, particularly in rural areas.

The pressures on girls to stay at home, especially if they come from a poor rural household, are many. They may be required to care for a sick relative or to help out with household chores. Too often, girls are kept at home from secondary school because there are no proper toilets or they experience violence or abuse.

In addition, the reality of early pregnancies and early marriage also works against girls’ attendance at secondary school.

For children to learn at a particular standard, the school environment needs to safe and children need to be protected from harm. For many children, particularly girls, this is not the case and too often their experience of school includes exploitation and abuse.

Girls in their schoolroom

Our response

Girls’ education is a priority for Ireland. We support a range of initiatives to get more girls into school and help them to complete their education. To do this, we work with Ministries of Education, global partners and civil society and community organisations.

We support safe school environments and the reduction of gender-based violence for students and staff and recognise the value female teachers play as role models for young female students.

Our aim is for every girl to receive 12 years of quality education.

In February 2020, Ireland organised a special meeting at the United Nations on adolescent girls’ education called the Drive for 5.

Ireland called on all governments to commit to five transformative actions to get all adolescent girls into school and provide them with free, quality, relevant education in supportive, safe and healthy environments:

She has a Desk

In Zambia, Ireland supports girls from four provinces to attend school through bursaries for fees, accommodation, food, transport and uniforms. They provide psychosocial support for girls through trained teacher mentors.

In Mauritania, the Global Partnership for Education programme builds schools in areas where girls tended to drop out has seen the female enrolment rate triple.

In West Africa, our partners Plan International Ireland work with communities, schools, local and national governments to improve quality education. They focus on inclusion, particularly of girls and children with disabilities, in pre and primary school.

In separate heighted box: Universal secondary education has the potential to end child marriage

She is confident

Ireland works to provide supportive girl friendly learning environments. In Somalia, Ireland supports World Vision improve learning environments for girls. Improved physical facilitates for girls compliment improved teacher training to better respond to girls learning needs. Girls’ enrolment has increased by 70% and girls now make up over half of the students enrolled.

In Kenya, Ireland is supporting Aidlink and its partner Girl Child Network to change negative social norms limiting girls’ right to education in rural communities.

Ireland’s partner, Camfed, works with school management and communities to make schools more girl friendly, benefiting all students.

Camfed also provides psychosocial support for girls through trained teacher mentors.

In Afghanistan, Ireland supports Global Partnership for Education to ensure female teachers are recruited, trained and deployed to community schools in rural areas. This has resulted in girls’ enrolment in primary school increasing from 44% to 84%.

In Uganda, graduates from the Irish Aid supported Straight Talk Foundation bursary programme continue to contribute through an alumni association.

Making schools safe places for girls

In Uganda, we support Fields of Life project I AM GIRL, a health education initiative that addresses barriers to adolescent girls participating in education and support community engagement on topics such as child protection, period hygiene and gender based violence.

In Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, in partnership with UNESCO, we are working to reduce early and unintended pregnancies and gender-based violence through good quality comprehensive sexuality education programmes integrated into education curricula, as well as safe, healthier and inclusive school environments.

In March 2020, with the support of Irish Aid, the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence (ICGBV), a unique government-civil society initiative, published a paper on School Related Gender Based Violence which linked to other Irish Aid supported projects, such as Concerns Safe Learning Model project in Sierra Leone.

She is healthy

Ireland supports comprehensive sexuality education programming to ensure youth have the knowledge and skills to make decisions about their future. In partnership with UNESCO, we support safer, healthier and more inclusive school environments for students in Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In Sierra Leone, where early pregnancy is a major factor in girls dropping out of education, Ireland supports initiatives to reduce disruption to girls’ education during pregnancy and reintegration into school after pregnancy.

Promoting role models for girls

Women teachers have an important role to play as role models for young female students.   We support the recruitment, training and deployment of female teachers especially to rural areas where the school attendance of girls is low.

The provision of scholarships

Through our civil society and government partners in Lesotho, Uganda and Zambia, we fund a number of scholarships for girls to attend secondary school.

Support for advocacy

Raising awareness about the benefits of girl’s attendance at school for the whole community is important if we are to reach our goal of universal primary education.

We provide support for civil society organisations such as Concern and Plan who work with communities to advocate for and hold their governments to account for the provision of girl-friendly and girl-safe schools in their area.


As the Covid-19 heath crisis escalated, Ireland assembled a virtual forum to bring together girls, education thought leaders and global leaders to ensure adolescent girls are included in the reopening and rebuilding of school systems. Assembling the contributions from this forum, Ireland produced a set of Key Recommendations for Adolescent Girls Education after COVID-19.

We support civil society organisations such as Concern International and Plan International to work with communities to advocate for girls rights. They work to ensure governments provide girl-friendly and girl-safe schools across the regions they work in.

In February 2021, Ireland hosted youth led global dialogues on education and gender equality with recommendations captured in the Youth Communique for Adolescent Girls' Education in the Generation Equality Forum.

Youth Communique for Adolescent Girls in the GEF

Learn more about our work in education

Read about how we support education programmes in our partner countries