Girls' Education

World Bank
World Bank
Publication Year:
February 10, 2022
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality

Every day, girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, violence and fragility. Girls’ education is a strategic development priority for the World Bank.


Ensuring that all girls and young women receive a quality education is their human right, a global development priority, and a strategic priority for the World Bank. 

Achieving gender equality is central to the World Bank Group twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. As the largest financing development partner in education globally, the World Bank ensures that all of its education projects are gender-sensitive, and works to overcome barriers that are preventing girls and boys from equally benefiting from countries’ investments in education.

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; gain 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.

Both individuals and countries benefit from girls’ education. Better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes. A recent World Bank study estimates that the “limited educational opportunities for girls, and barriers to completing 12 years of education, cost countries between US$15 trillion1 and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.” All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and countries out of poverty.

The Challenge

According to UNESCO estimates, around the world, 129 million girls are out of school, including 32  million of primary school age, and 97 million of secondary school age. 

Globally, primary, and secondary school enrollment rates are getting closer to equal for girls and boys (90% male, 89% female). But while enrollment rates are similar – in fact, two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary school enrollment – completion rates for girls are lower in low-income countries where 63% of female primary school students complete primary school, compared to 67% of male primary school students.  In low-income countries, secondary school completion rates for girls also continue to lag, with only 36% of girls completing lower secondary school compared to 44% of boys. Upper secondary completion rates have similar disparities in lower income countries, the rate is 26% for young men and 21% for young women.

The gaps are starker in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV). In FCV countries, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, and at the secondary level, are 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than those in non-FCV contexts.  

Both girls and boys are facing a learning crisis. Learning Poverty (LP) measures the share of children who are not able to read proficiently at age 10. While girls are on average 4 percentage points less learning-poor than boys, the rates remain very high for both groups. The average of Learning Poverty in in low- and middle- income countries is 55% for females, and 59% for males. The gap is narrower in low-income countries, where Learning Poverty averages about 93% for both boys and girls.

In many countries, enrollment in tertiary education slightly favors young women, however, better learning outcomes are not translating into better work and life outcomes for women. There is a large gender gap in labor force participation rates globally. It is especially stark in regions such as South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, which have some of the lowest female labor force participation rates at 24% and 20% per region, respectively. These are appallingly low rates, considering what is observed in other regions like Latin America (53%) or East Asia (59%), which are still below rates for men. 

Gender bias within schools and classrooms may also reinforce messages that affect girls’ ambitions, their own perceptions of their roles in society, and produce labor market engagement disparities and occupational segregation. When gender stereotypes are communicated through the design of school and classroom learning environments or through the behavior of faculty, staff, and peers in a child’s school, it goes on to have sustained impact on academic performance and choice of field of study, especially negatively affecting young women pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Poverty is one of the most important factors for determining whether a girl can access and complete her education. Studies consistently reinforce that girls who face multiple disadvantages — such as low family income, living in remote or underserved locations or who have a disability or belong to a minority ethno-linguistic group — are farthest behind in terms of access to and completion of education.

Violence also prevents girls from accessing and completing education – often girls are forced to walk long distances to school placing them at an increased risk of violence and many experience violence while at school. Most recent data estimates that approximately 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to or at school every year. This often has serious consequences for their mental and physical health and overall well-being while also leading to lower attendance and higher dropout rates. An estimated 246 million children experience violence in and around school every year, ending school-related gender-based violence is critical. Adolescent pregnancies can be a result of sexual violence or sexual exploitation. Girls who become pregnant often face strong stigma, and even discrimination, from their communities. The burden of stigma, compounded by unequal gender norms, can lead girls to drop out of school early and not return. 

Child marriage is also a critical challenge. Girls who marry young are much more likely to drop out of school, complete fewer years of education than their peers who marry later. They are also more likely to have children at a young age and are exposed to higher levels of violence perpetrated by their partner.  In turn, this affects the education and health of their children, as well as their ability to earn a living. Indeed, girls with secondary schooling are up to six times more likely to marry as those children with little or no education. According to a recent report, more than 41,000 girls under the age of 18 marry every day. Putting an end to this practice would increase women’s expected educational attainment, and with it, their potential earnings. According to the report’s estimates, ending child marriage could generate more than US$500 billion in benefits annually each year.

COVID-19 is having a negative impact on girls’ health and well-being – and many are at risk of not returning to school once they reopen. Available research shows that prevalence of violence against girls and women has increased during the pandemic – jeopardizing their health, safety and overall well-being. As school closures and quarantines were enforced during the 2014‐2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, women and girls experienced more sexual violence, coercion and exploitation. School closures during the Ebola outbreak were associated with an increase in teenage pregnancies. Once schools re-opened, many “visibly pregnant girls” were banned from going back to school. With schools closing throughout the developing world, where stigma around teenage pregnancies prevails, we will probably see an increase in drop-out rates as teenage girls become pregnant or married. As girls stay at home because of school closures, their household work burdens might increase, resulting in girls spending more time helping out at home instead of studying. This might encourage parents, particularly those putting a lower value on girls' education, to keep their daughters at home even after schools reopen. Moreover, research shows that girls risk dropping out of school when caregivers are missing from the household because they typically have to (partly) replace the work done by the missing caregiver, who might be away due to COVID-19-related work, illness, or death. Therefore, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, we might see more girls than boys helping at home, lagging behind with studying, and dropping out of school.

Last Updated: Feb 10, 2022


The World Bank is committed to seeing every girl prosper in her life. Our projects support the education of hundreds of millions of girls and young women across the world. Working through interventions in education, health, social protection, water, infrastructure, and other sectors, we are making an even stronger commitment to support countries in ensuring that every girl receives the quality education she deserves.

Our 180 projects are impacting more than 150 million girls and young women worldwide. Hundreds of millions more have been impacted over the past few decades. 

We tackle key barriers that girls and young women face when trying to obtain an education. Guided by evidence on what works for girls’ education, our projects use multi-pronged approaches across areas including:

1. Removing barriers to schooling

  • Addressing financial barriers, through scholarships, stipends, grants, conditional cash transfers
  • Addressing long distances and lack of safety to and from school by building schools, providing transportation methods for girls to get to school
  • Addressing a lack of information about returns to girls’ education but running community awareness campaigns engaging parents, school leaders, and local community leaders
  • Working with the community to address and inform on social and cultural norms and perceptions that may prevent girls’ education

2. Promoting safe and inclusive schools 

  • By constructing and rehabilitating schools to create safe and inclusive learning environments, 
  • Efforts at the community- and school-levels, and programs to engage the school (including teachers, girls, and boys) in reducing gender-based violence (GBV) and ensuring available mechanisms to report GBV
  • Support for hygiene facilities and menstrual hygiene management for adolescent girls

3. Improving the quality of education 

  • Investing in teacher professional development, eliminating gender biases in curriculum and teaching practices, and focusing on foundational learning
  • Adapting teaching and learning materials, and books to introduce gender sensitive language, pictorial aspects, and messaging

4. Developing skills and empowering girls for life and labor market success 

  • Promoting girls’ empowerment, skills development programs and social programs
  • Prioritizing and promoting women in STEM subjects and careers in both traditional and non-traditional sectors
  • Reducing barriers and providing incentives through scholarships for women to enroll in higher education and TVET programs
  • Support for childcare programs for women and girls to join the labor market

For more information on our girls’ education investment and projects, please read Count Me In: The World Bank Education Global Practice: Improving Education Outcomes for Girls and Women, which highlights our decades-long commitment to girls’ education, and showcases how Education GP projects are creating opportunities for girls around the world to succeed in their education and beyond.

Last Updated: Oct 26, 2021



The WBG supports girls’ education through a variety of interventions.  Our focus on girls’ education and wellbeing goes beyond school attendance and learning outcomes – we strive to ensure girls have safe, joyful, and inclusive experience with education systems that set them up for success in life and motivate them to become lifelong learners. This approach, reflected in the current Education portfolio impacting at least 150 million girls and young women, prioritizes investments in four key areas listed below. 

1. Removing barriers to girls’ schooling

  • Our projects providing stipends to improve primary and secondary school completion for girls and young women in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Sahel benefit close to half a million girls. 
  • Our Girls Empowerment and Learning for All Project in Angola will use a variety of financial incentives to attract adolescent girls to schools, including scholarships, and new school spaces for girls. 
  • The AGILE (Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment) project in Nigeria is providing conditional cash transfers to households for sending girls to school, removing cost barriers to their education. 
  • The MIQRA (Mali Improving Education Quality and Results for All Project) has a school feeding and nutrition program targeted at retention and attendance for girls in schools.

2. Promoting safe and inclusive schools for girls

  • In Tanzania, the Bank is supporting the training of a counselor in every school who will provide life-skills training in girls’ and boys’ clubs – which is important because closing gender gaps is not only about interventions for girls but also for boys. 
  • In Nigeria, female counselors will provide life skills training to about 340,000 girls in safe spaces. Several of our other projects also support the construction of separate sanitary toilets for girls, as well as introducing GBV-reducing and reporting mechanisms in school systems. 

3. Improving the quality of education for girls (and boys)

  • In Ghana, the Accountability and Learning Outcomes Project is conducting teacher training for gender-sensitive instruction, and aims to create guides for teachers to support gender sensitivity in classrooms. 
  • In Honduras, the Early Childhood Education Improvement Project, will create a revised preschool curriculum that will include content on gender equity, inclusion, and violence prevention, as well as training for teachers, including training to combat GBV.
  • The Girls Empowerment and Quality Education for All Project in Sao Tome & Principe is creating girls’ clubs after school, where they are also provided with life skills training, and counseling.

4. Developing skills for life and labor market success for young women

  • The Nurturing Excellence in Higher Education Project in Nepal is focusing on increasing access to tertiary education for young women from low-income groups, and additional providing scholarships for the poorest applications, alongside communication and advocacy campaigns for more female enrollment in STEM subjects. 
  • The ASSET (Accelerating and Strengthening Skills for Economic Transformation) project in Bangladesh is working to increase the participation of women in skills training programs, and conducting awareness and communications campaigns to address dropout.
  • In Pakistan, the Higher Education Development project seeks to support women enrolled in STEM programs, with an aim to move them from 2-year to more comprehensive 4-year programs. 
  • The Higher Education Project in Moldova and the Higher Education Modernization Project in Belarus will both support and finance activities to increase enrollment of women in STEM fields. The Côte d'Ivoire Higher Education Development Support Project provides scholarships for women in higher education, and extra tutoring support for females pursuing STEM subjects.
  • Schemes to increase participation of girls in higher education. Through the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACE) project, the Bank has supported increased enrollment of females in masters and PhD programs. The number of female students in ACE centers was 343 in 2014 and is now 3,400 in 2020; a tenfold increase. The Bank is also building the pipeline of female students interested in computer science and engineering programs and retain them. 


For more information on our girls’ education investment and projects, please read Count Me In: The World Bank Education Global Practice: Improving Education Outcomes for Girls and Women, which highlights our decades-long commitment to girls’ education, and showcases how Education GP projects are creating opportunities for girls around the world to succeed in their education and beyond.

Last Updated: Oct 26, 2021



The WBG works closely with governments and other development organizations on girls’ education issues to identify and advance interventions that improve girls’ education outcomes and provide resources to support countries implementing such initiatives. Partnerships both within and outside of the World Bank are critical to the Education GP’s work on girls’ education. The Education GP works with other global practices in the Bank to improve girls’ education—for example, collaborating with the Water GP for access to sanitation and hygiene in schools, with Social Protection and Jobs GP for challenges related to labor market transition, or Energy GP to improve school safety. 

The World Bank collaborates actively with many donors and organizations. As a signatory to the G7 Charlevoix Commitment, the Bank has already committed an estimated $2.5 billion to girls’ education in FCV countries as of September 2021—exceeding its pledge of $2.0 billion from 2018 to 2023. 

The Education GP: 

  • is collaborating with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office FCDO (UK) about targets and high-level engagement with G7 donors, to support aid and financial commitment for girls’ education; 
  • is a member of the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) Girls’ EiE Reference Group, which seeks to further research and advocacy for girls’ education in emergencies; 
  • a member of the UNESCO Gender Flagship Reference Group and has provided technical contributions to the UNESCO-commissioned study (December 2020-July 2021); and 
  • is working closely with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) as the implementing agency for 54 percent of the total GPE grants of $3.62 billion, that support girls’ education.
  • is a member of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), which comprises over 20 partners representing multilateral, bilateral, civil society, and non-governmental organizations.
  • collaborated with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to produce Economic Impacts of Child Marriage, a recent report detailing the effects of child marriage, which was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and GPE.
Last Updated: Oct 26, 2021


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