Follow the *Female* Leader to Educate and Empower Girls.

There is no “silver bullet” for global development, but girls’ education is as close to it comes. Education leads to higher wages and greater empowerment which elevates the most marginalized sections of society in developing nations. The power of girls’ education as a development tool is its far-reach and longevity. Educated, economically and culturally invested women empower their whole family and community for generations.

The statics that proves the remarkable power of girls’ education is the result of a heavy body of research by various organizations, USAID, CARE, UNESCO, UN Women to name a few. Although the need for such extensive and often repetitive research seems slightly absurd, as it is obvious that the fundamental human right that every girl and boy should receive a quality education should be met, the deeper researchers delved into the subject, the more remarkable the results appeared. All the evidence pointed in the same direction, proving that girls’ education is the most efficient and effective investment in global development and we have known this for some time.

And yet, despite this wealth of evidence on the far-reaching and world-changing effects of girl’s education, there are still 130.3 million girls out of school worldwide. How can this be the case and why is everybody not talking about it?

It is tempting to frame the answer as a lack of resources, invoking investment in schools, textbooks, and teachers as a solution. It has been calculated that it will cost $39 billion a year to educate every child in the world. To put that into perspective the US defense budget currently stands at $526.6 billion. Though it must be noted that these are just children in seats, not necessarily access to quality education, it seems amazingly achievable

However, the issue is not financial, but cultural.

While a lack of resources contributes to the issues girls face in accessing education, the root cause of the problem is harmful cultural practices that women have to face around the world. Many families and communities simply don’t think girls are worth educating, forcing them into marriage and child rearing when they are still children themselves. And the scale of the problem is shocking. One-third of all women aged 20–25, globally, were childhood brides. An estimate of 200 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation and a further 3 million girls each year will, prevalence is as high at 98% in Somalia.

This culture is a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. The harmful beliefs that deny girls from being educated then reinforce itself through lack of education. While education is the best way to break this cycle, achieving full education for all girls worldwide will not be possible without delving into the cultures that created the problem. Exterior financial aid is not the solution, but instead supporting champions of female education who have experienced first-hand the challenges girls’ face and fought to overcome barriers to education.

Malala Youssif, a Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head alongside two of her friends, used her story to spark a worldwide conversation that is long overdue. Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize documented her heart-wrenching story in her biography which sold over a million copies. Her face, scarred by the gun wound, has become a symbol for the fight to overcome the violent barriers to girls’ educations.

Malala brought the realities of severe female oppression to an international stage, spreading the message of female empowerment through education. She opened eyes to some of the extreme issues of FGM and child marriage that girls face.

Armed with international acclaim, recognition and respect female leaders like Malala can affect change in their countries to shift cultures of female oppression and violence. Kakenya Ntaiya grew up in the Maasai tribe in Kenya and was forced to undergo FGM to be allowed to continue with her education. Through outstanding perseverance and intelligence, Kakenya managed to obtain a BA and PHD in America before returning to Kenya to set up a school which has 100% no child marriage or FGM. The success of her students tells the story of the unprecedented influence of an empowered female leader in altering cultural practices and changing lives.

Female leaders are the first step of breaking girls’ education into a global conversation that starts raising attention and shifting cultural norms. Malala, Kakenya and other leaders in girls’ education have the power to prove that even in the face of extreme adversity, education can realize dreams, elevate communities, and break the cycle of poverty.