The Second Lady of the Republic of Ghana, Mrs Samira Bawumia, has pointed out that the struggle for gender equality will be meaningless unless the girl child is empowered through education.

She said access to education plays a crucial role in women empowerment and has therefore bemoaned the alarming figures of girls of school going age who are out of school, which could adversely impact on their future as adults.

While we fight for greater rights and equality for women in all spheres of life, let us not forget that educating the girl child remains the bedrock of women empowerment. Every woman was once a girl, so an empowered girl makes for an empowered woman, Mrs. Bawumia stated at the Global Women’s Empowerment event held in Philadelphia, US on Saturday, March 10, 2018.

The progress made in individual nations is commendable but the global picture leaves much to be desired. According to UNICEF, there are more than 1.1 billion girls in the world today. This is a significant number whose fate should not be left to chance. Without a deliberate effort and policy to help shape their future, the prospects for some of these girls are bleak, she warned.

There are still 31 million girls of primary school age out of school. Of these, 17 million are expected never to enter school, according to UNESCO. Also, UNESCO estimates that there are 34 million female adolescents out of school while almost a quarter of young women aged 15-24 today numbering 116 million in developing countries have never completed primary school and so lack skills for work; and two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are said to be females.

Let us not take these numbers just as abstract figures. Unfortunately, these figures represent girls and women who bear the brunt of society’s difficulties because they lack the basic skills and the springboard which education provides for their economic and social take offs, Mrs. Bawumia stated.

She stressed on the need to prioritise girl child education now since that will have a ripple effect on national development.

She said: Lack of education has a debilitating effect on women empowerment, maternal health, job opportunities, and exposes girls to gender based violence and forced marriages. To illustrate, UNICEF estimates that if all women had secondary education, there would be 49 percent fewer child deaths. Again, according to UNICEF; if all women had secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa, South and West Asia, child marriage would drop by 64 percent.

One of the greatest educationists in the history of Ghana, James Kwegyir Aggrey once said that if you educate a boy, you educate an individual but if you educate a girl, you educate a nation. Nearly a century after his death, all evidence still points to the fact that prioritizing girl child education, especially in the developing world, does not only empower the girl but it serves as a catalyst for the development of the entire nation.

Mrs. Bawumia has therefore touted the Free Senior High School Education programme being spearheaded by the Akufo-Addo-Bawumia administration, believing it will help break the shackles impeding the progress of women.

For these reasons, it is imperative that as we champion the cause of women, we should endeavour to shape national policy such as access to education. This is because if the frontiers are opened, girls and women stand to benefit more.

In many countries, education opportunities exist but because of poverty, girls are often sacrificed. Countries such as Ghana are making some progress in this regard. I am happy to say that the government of Ghana last year made education at the secondary level absolutely free for all children of school going age. This means the government pays for tuition, books, feeding, uniforms and boarding fees.

Initiatives such as these are not gender biased but from the statistics, it is clear however, that girls would benefit immensely and the standard of living of women will be greatly enhanced in the long run, the Second Lady told her global audience.