Investment in girls’ education could see 10% GDP growth in EMs by 2030: Report

Nehal Samir
5 Min Read

Emerging markets that achieve 100% secondary education completion rate among girls by 2030 could see their GDP boosted by an average of 10%, according to a new report by Citi Global Insights and Plan International.

The report, entitled “The Case for Holistic Investment in Girls – Improving Lives, Realizing Potential, and Benefitting Everyone”, reveals that a total investment of just $1.53 per day, per girl, in emerging economies would have a huge impact on a country’s overall economic potential.

More than 130 million girls worldwide were out of school before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), over 11 million girls may not go back after the crisis.

Adolescent girls everywhere, but especially in developing economies, encounter barriers in: accessing and completing quality education; becoming economically independent; participating in the labour force; and living a healthy life free from violence.

Several types of domestic violence, such as intimate partner violence, affects an estimated 29% of girls aged 15-19 worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Globally, 1 in 5 women were married before their 18th birthday, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In addition, almost 1 billion girls and young women under 24 (64%) are currently lacking key skills that they need for life and work. In lower-middle income countries, this translates into 75%, and rises to 93% for low-income countries, according to the Malala Fund.

Globally, 90% of countries have at least one law that restricts economic equality for girls and women, according to the World Bank.

Education is necessary to unlock girls’ potential and has a multiplier effect across other dimensions, but it is not enough just to keep girls in school. There is growing evidence that supports the use of multi-component interventions in delivering the best outcome for girls.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, said, “COVID-19 recovery plans that prioritise investment in girls’ education and well-being will help communities and economies build back better and stronger.”

“But importantly, this must be comprehensive investment not just in education itself, but in dismantling all the various barriers to girls’ empowerment, from child and early forced marriage to gender-based violence and early pregnancy,” she added, “As we can see from this study, holistic investment in all areas of girls’ lives will result in increased GDP, a high return on investment for countries and a more just world.”

Even greater economic returns would materialise beyond 2030, thanks to the cumulative effects of the benefits, and taking into account the impact educating girls will also have on families and communities.

Andrew Pitt, Global Head of Research at Citi, said, “The special value of the collaboration between Citi and Plan International comes through bringing together the economic and social case, and presenting a solid multi-component investment case.”

“Eradicating barriers to girls’ education and development may hold the key to achieving many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he added.

This report brings together the diverse expertise of Citi and Plan International and features three key components: a deep dive into the complex barriers facing adolescent girls, and what interventions are required to overcome them; an original economic analysis of the potential costs of an intervention package and the economic benefits that could be achieved through this; and recommendations on how different sectors can come together to effectively tackle the barriers holding adolescent girls back.

A major challenge to research over the years has been a lack of high-quality and inclusive data. Citi and Plan International have partnered to address this crucial knowledge gap, creating one of the most holistic data sets yet on the economic and social benefits of investing in adolescent girls and young women. 

The UN has encouraged the development of collaboration between the private sector, the public sector, NGOs, and philanthropic institutions in pursuit of the SDGs. This research confirms the benefits of such positive interdisciplinary collaborations.

The report concludes that investing in the development of adolescent girls will have positive implications across the global goals beyond SDG 5, covering gender equality, and is in fact key to achieving sustainable development overall. The importance of girls’ education and empowerment has been linked to several SDGs including reducing conflict, achieving clean water and sanitation as well as tackling climate change.

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