Why Are More Than 130 Million Girls Not in School?

Published on by Green Initiatives

Girls’ education goes beyond getting girls into school. It is also about ensuring that girls learn and feel safe while in school; have the opportunity to complete all levels of education acquiring the knowledge and skills to compete in the labor market; learn the socio-emotional and life skills necessary to navigate and adapt to a changing world; make decisions about their own lives, and contribute to their communities and the world.


According to UNESCO estimates, around the world, 132 million girls are out of school, including 34.3 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67.4 million of upper-secondary school age.

To put this number in context – the population of Mexico is approximately 130 million. 

In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries. And in many countries, among girls who do enter primary school, only a small portion will reach and far fewer will complete secondary school.

10 obstacles that are hindering girl education

While poverty is one of the most important factors for determining whether a girl can access and complete her education; it is just one of the many roadblocks in their path to better opportunities and economic development. Here are a few factors put together by the Malala Fund which highlight the plight of millions of girls around the world and what is putting them out of school.

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  • In areas of the world with few restrictions on Child Labor, families often choose to send their daughters to work instead of school. Parents also often rely on girls’ income to support the household and sending a girl to school means they spend less time helping in the home.
  • Early Marriage often prevents girls from continuing their education and realizing their full potential. Parents believe they are protecting their children from harm or stigma associated with having a relationship outside of marriage.
  • War and violence drastically reduce opportunities for girls to continue their education. In areas of conflict, girls and women are the most vulnerable. The number of girls reported as human trafficking victims is on the rise.
  • The high cost of education prevents the most marginalized girls from getting an education. Even in areas where parents do not have to pay school fees, it can be difficult to keep up with the costs of transportation, textbooks, or uniforms.
  • Societies with strong Gender Biases, long-held misconceptions, and cultural norms keep girls away from schools to make way for male children. Gender-based violence can take many forms, including physical and sexual abuse, harassment, and bullying.
  • Menstruation is stigmatized around the world and the cultural shame attached to the natural process makes girls feel too embarrassed to fully participate in society. Once a month from the time a girl reaches puberty, there is a chance she will miss school.
  • Uneducated girls are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, early pregnancy, and other health complications, which keep them away from schools forming a vicious cycle.
  • In certain remote areas where going to school regularly is a major challenge in itself, areas affected by climate change and Natural Disasters complicate matters even more.
  • Insufficient and unqualified teachers, Poor-Quality infrastructure, and lack of education facilities often make schooling impossible even for those who manage to get access to one.
  • More recently School Closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative impact on girls’ health and well-being – and many are at risk of not returning to school once they reopen.

Girls Education in China

Over the past two decades, China has made significant progress in achieving its goals in women's education. According to data from China's National Bureau of Statistics, in 2013, the net rate of enrollment of girls in primary schools reached 99.72 percent.

Despite this rapid progress, China still faces severe challenges when it comes to its migrant worker population. "Left-behind" girls in rural China, whose parents have moved from their hometown in search of work in cities and towns, have a smaller chance of attending school than their male counterparts, due, in part, to a long-held perception that men are entitled to more privileges than women.

The Annual Report on Left-behind Girls in China's Rural Areas (2016) found that 78.9 percent of parents in villages are inclined to bring their sons with them to bigger cities for better education. In addition, when they only have finances to pay for one child's higher education, 97.5 percent of them would choose sons over daughters.

China's compulsory basic education system waives most fees for elementary and middle schools, resulting in 96.1 percent of girls in rural areas attending school from ages 6 to 11. However, only 79.3 percent have access to high school education when they are aged 15 to 17, the research found.

'He Named Me Malala' Film Screening

As part of International Women's Day 2021, Green Initiatives' 126th film screening features He Named Me Malala, a 2015 American documentary film that presents the young Pakistani female activist Malala Yousafzai, who has spoken out for the rights of girls, especially the right to education since she was very young.

The documentary is based on the book, I Am Malala, which tells the tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

The film screening will be followed by a discussion with Corinne HuaExecutive Director, Stepping Stones & Hedda Himle Skandsen, Deputy Consul General at the Royal Norwegian Consulate General in Shanghai. More details can be found here.


  • https://www.bbc.com/news/education-51769845
  • http://uis.unesco.org/en/blog/millions-girls-are-out-school-data-show-gender-alone-not-main-culprit
  • https://malala.org/girls-education?sc=header
  • https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/barriers-to-girls-education-around-the-world
  • https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2017-03/02/content_28402209.htm
  • https://borgenproject.org/girls-education-in-china