May 31, 2018 | By

Climate Solutions, Economic Growth, Global Stability? Rural Girls Hold the Key

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is thrilled to announce a new blog series, Stakeholder Girls, which highlights the central role that rural girls must play in consideration of the 2018 G7 priority theme areas. Each week in June, as the leadership of the G7 meets, we will discuss the central role of rural girls in responding to climate change, preparing for the future of work, economic growth and equality, and building a more secure world. If leaders do not consider the unique strengthens and concerns of rural girls, progress on each of these themes will be curtailed.
By Laura Glenn O'Carroll
Next week, leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) member states—the United States, Canada, France, Italy, the UK, Germany, and Japan—will meet in Quebec, Canada to discuss these priority issues. These countries comprise the seven largest advanced economies in the world and represent most of wealth on earth; the priorities of this group can be felt globally. Presidency of the G7 rotates annually, allowing each country to drive policy discussions for that year. The Canadian 2018 presidency has highlighted and included gender considerations, but there is one member of the global family that still needs to be centered—rural girls.
In 2011, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a breakthrough report, Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies, on empowering rural girls throughout the world. The report’s recommendations in education, economic opportunities, safety, and more told the story of power and promise of rural girls, one of the world’s least advantaged groups. Rural girls face unique challenges as a result of their location, age, and gender; however, they also hold great untapped potential.
An adolescent girl is on the precipice of change. If she is able to remain in school, gain valuable skills, and stay healthy, she can earn an income and invest in her family and her community. If she stops attending school, marries early, and becomes a young mother, her ability to reach her full potential is curtailed. Her loss is our loss as well. The global community cannot advance without these key members. Many of the most pressing issues for global leaders deeply impact rural girls, and, being at the front lines of these issues, they are best positioned to make progress in addressing them. As girls become better educated, their influence in the home and community grows.

Education is the Key

If you protect and educate girls, they can do great things. Investing in girls breaks the cycle of poverty and reaps one of the highest returns of any community investment. Since the publication of Girls Grow, the global community has made strides in many areas that affect girls; for example, many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have realized increased education levels overall. However, there is still a great deal of progress to be made before rural girls achieve equality. Indeed, since 2011, many global challenges have deepened, including the effects of climate change, increased destabilization in many regions, growing economic inequality, and an uncertain future of work. Each of these issues has an outsized impact on rural girls.
Research has found that furthering a girl’s education has a multitude of economic and health benefits for her, her family, and her entire community. Better educated girls and women create more stable societies, richer nations, and lower carbon emissions. However, significant work remains to be done in this area, especially when considering the total number of girls out of school. In 2011, over 30 million girls of primary school age in LMICs were not in school; by 2016, that number had risen to 31 million.
While there has been some encouraging progress in primary education expansion, gender disparities in secondary education has remained stubborn, with little improvement since 1999. As future workforces demand increasingly technical skills, rural girls will fall further behind unless there are expansions in science and technology education.


Security Starts at Home

A lack of security is many times a main obstacle between rural girls and an education, and infrastructure gaps, such as poor roads or unsafe latrines, can create opportunities for attacks to occur. Too often, daily violence is normalized and unpunished, creating cultures of violence—children that grow up experiencing violence are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of violence later in their life as well.
Rural girls in conflict zones or unstable states are especially vulnerable to violence. Sexual violence is used as a weapon of war in some conflicts—for example, UN officials say that 75 percent of women and girls in Liberia had experienced sexual violence during the country’s civil war. The tactic is used to humiliate, create fear, and target civilians of a specific community or ethnic group with the goal of creating terror. Lasting peace cannot be achieved without rural girls’ involvement and recognition of the complex challenges that they face in these theaters.
International order, human rights, and global security cannot be upheld without viewing rural girls as key constituents. As victims, combatants, and weapons in many modern-day conflicts, the lives of girls across the globe continue to be impacted by instability. A key lever of creating stability is expanding education and opportunity for girls and women.

Little Women, Big Impact

Educating girls has impacts beyond stability as well. Without expansions in both reach and quality of education, rural girls will not be positioned to reach their full potential—a key driver of economic growth. According to the World Bank, just one more year of education beyond the average amount of schooling increases girls’ incomes by 10 to 20 percent. Furthermore, girls and women are more likely to use those earnings to support their families’ well-being, compared to men—investing nearly 10 times more.
More than 80 percent of rural households depend on agriculture to some degree, and girls are the backbone of these agricultural households. Alongside their families, they gather firewood, tend fields and gardens, and manage livestock. For example, rural girls in Malawi spend over three times more hours than boys gathering wood and water. However, women and girls continue to have less access to land, inputs, financing, and education than their male rural counterparts. Rural girls are often the first to experience negative impacts from climate shifts, due to their dependence on natural resource collection.
Investing in girls’ education is one of the most effective means of limiting or reversing climate change. Without understanding their key stakeholder status, efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to build resiliency will struggle. Next week, this blog will dive further into climate change’s effect on rural girls and their unique power to further climate solutions.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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