World leaders must increase their support for girls’ education and listen to the voices of young women, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai has said.
Ms Yousafzai, one of the world's most high-profile education activists, highlighted how millions of children were at risk of permanently dropping out of school because of Covid-19. She said that climate change was exacerbating the issue.
She was addressing the Global Education Summit in London, which aims to raise at least $5 billion to support the work of the Global Partnership for Education. GPE is the only fund dedicated exclusively to transform education in lower-income countries.
“If we want a stronger, fairer world we must keep girls learning. Girls’ education improves public health, mitigates climate change, improves peace and promotes economic growth,” she told the summit.
Ms Yousafzai, who rose to global fame after she survived being shot by the Taliban in 2012, said that funding education was the key to achieving those goals.
“Girls and young women are eager to learn and lead, they are critical to meeting the challenges we face today. But too many education systems are falling short.
“World leaders, those who are here with us today on stage, those who are listening to us virtually and those who will listen to us later – must listen to young women.
“We need to shift resources to girls’ education and equip them with the skills and resources they need to thrive.”
She said she was hopeful of a better future because of the enthusiasm of young people to support change.
“What I am really positive about is the optimism that young people carry in their hearts. They want a better world, they want a safer world, they want a more equal world, and they are ambitious, they are not giving up on their dreams.
“When you are growing up as a child, you believe anything is possible, and I think that’s the passion that we need to carry in our hearts.”
Campaigners say the cause of schooling for girls has been undermined by the pandemic, with millions missing class and some never likely to return.
The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told the summit that investment was needed to provide safe schooling in the age of the pandemic.
"The pandemic has hit the world’s children hard," Dr Tedros said. "This has magnified inequities for already marginalised children, especially girls."
Speaking to The National on the eve of the summit, a former president of Tanzania said wealthy countries had a moral duty to invest in education.
Jakaya Kikwete said Africa's large youth population could become a disaffected cohort if they do not receive the education they need.
Britain is co-hosting the summit with Kenya but faces accusations that it is undermining its pledges on girls' education by cutting its own foreign aid budget. London says it will still spend £400m ($551m) on the cause over the next year.
Meeting Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on the eve of the summit, Mr Johnson announced that Britain would share nearly a million vaccine doses with Kenya as part of its first shipments to developing nations.
Urging world leaders to dig deep, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic could leave a “lasting legacy of wasted talent”.
The campaign is designed to help 175 million girls and boys to learn in up to 90 countries.
“We have a fight on our hands to ensure Covid-19 does not scupper the life chances of millions of children, leaving a lasting legacy of wasted talent," Mr Johnson said.
“Too many children around the world, girls in particular, were already out of school before the pandemic.
“Enabling them to learn and reach their full potential is the single greatest thing we can do to recover from this crisis and build better, greener and fairer societies.