On October 11 we will celebrate International Day of the Girl, a day that focuses a lens on the challenges girls face, while promoting their empowerment, fulfillment, and human rights. Access to education is among these rights.
During the Global Forum on Girls’ Education II hosted by NCGS in June, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder and president of the NCGS member school, SOLA (School of Leadership Afghanistan). Born in Kabul, Shabana grew up under the Taliban regime when girls’ education was banned, however, she and her family went to great lengths—and assumed great risks—to ensure she would be able to continue her schooling.
And continue she did, both in Afghanistan after the Taliban fell and then in America, where Shabana co-founded SOLA while still an undergraduate at Middlebury College. At its inception, SOLA was four students in a rented house in Kabul. Today, it is Afghanistan’s first and only all-girls boarding school, enrolling 70 students from 23 Afghan provinces in Grades 6-8.
After participating in the Global Forum II, Shabana was exhilarated by the passion and energy of girls’ school educators and advocates from around the world. Her experience at the Forum was the impetuous for the following article.
Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools
I want to give you two numbers to think about.
30 trillion. 130 million.
They’re huge numbers, so enormous that it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around them.
But I want you to try, because these two numbers are crucial to understanding why I do what I do as an educator and they’re crucial to setting the tone for what I want to do next.
30 trillion is a financial figure: the World Bank says the global economy loses up to $30 trillion when girls are kept from completing their educations.
130 million is a human figure: that’s the estimated number of girls who don’t attend school worldwide—and because there’s not much reliable data for forcibly displaced children or refugees, that total is almost certainly low.
30 trillion and 130 million. Huge numbers. Powerful numbers. Shameful numbers.
Some of you reading these words are educators yourselves. Some of you are activists. All of you are passionate about speaking up for girls’ education around the world—and all of us have the right and the responsibility to lead the way in driving those two huge numbers down.
I use these words intentionally: we have the right. We have the responsibility. We are at the forefront of this global discussion, and we are the ones who must attack these numbers head-on; we are the ones who can, and will, create a leadership generation of educated women who will address the challenges of our interconnected world.
We are the ones who, right now, can work to change that first number—and we begin by confronting the second.
And with that in mind, let me give you three more numbers—and don’t worry: this time, they’re small.
4, 1, and 2.
These are the numbers I use for perspective—and for inspiration.
This article was written in the middle of September of 2018. If, at the moment it went live, I began counting to 130 million—counting one number every second: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on—I’d reach my goal sometime at the end of October in the year 2022.
Four years, one month, two weeks. That’s how long it would take me to finish counting.
That’s how long it would take to count every girl who isn’t in school.
Every second matters. Every life matters. Every girl matters.
Imagine what we could accomplish if each one of us, each in our own way, dedicated ourselves to putting a demonstrable dent in that 130 million number by 2022. At SOLA, we’re committed to more than doubling our student body—our recruitment season for 2019’s class of 6th graders is underway right now—and we aspire to enroll nearly 175 girls representing every province in Afghanistan by 2022.
But it seems like such a small number, doesn’t it? 175 girls versus 130 million? A fraction of a fraction of a percent. In the end, what can we really expect 175 girls to do?
I’ll tell you what they can do: anything they want.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 is a call to ensure that by 2030 all girls are able to complete their schooling. In June, the G7 pledged to put $3 billion toward girls’ education.
This is a critical time. An exciting and momentous time. We have the world’s attention and interest in ways that we may never have had before.
I don’t want to wait another second; I’m certain that you don’t either.
I don’t want to count another girl; I want every girl to count.
We have two huge numbers to confront. We have four years, one month, and two weeks ahead of us.
What will we all accomplish?
Shabana Basij-Rasikh, Co-founder and President, SOLA (School of Leadership Afghanistan)