Not all girls have the chance to go to school. Equal access to education for girls is a human right, and it is also a means of achieving progress in other areas. Worldwide, 140 million children are not in school – more than half are girls.

The facts

  • In many countries, more than half of girls drop out before they reach the 6th grade.
  • Girls often face social isolation and lack access to many services. For example, peer education programs, even if not school-based, are unlikely to reach urban girls, who are largely confined to the home.
  • There are many barriers that prevent girls from getting an education, including school fees, the price of school supplies and mandatory uniforms, or long distances between home and school.
  • For girls in developing countries, going to school can be more than just an opportunity to be educated – it can mean avoiding long work hours, staying healthy and safe, and the possibility of getting a job that otherwise would not be possible.

Girl Up and the Girls Opportunity Alliance

The Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation, seeks to empower adolescent girls around the world through education, allowing them to achieve their full potential and transform their families, communities, and countries. The Alliance engages people around the world to take action to help adolescent girls and the grassroots leaders working to educate them.

Girl Up and the United Nations

Girl Up is working with the United Nations to make sure adolescent girls have access to quality education and complete schooling (from nursery school through high school). Providing a girl with an education means that:

  • She is healthier – an educated girl is more likely to seek healthcare, marry later and have fewer children.
  • She is economically powerful – an educated girl will be earn more money, reinvest 80-90 percent of her wages back into her family and community and help break the cycle of poverty.
  • She is poised to be a leader – an educated girl will be more involved in her community, more prepared for decision-making and more confident in her own abilities.

The positive impact of girls’ education has been shown to transcend generations, resulting in better health outcomes among women, their children and eventually their grandchildren.


Refugee families living in Ethiopia are not allowed to work, resulting in poverty that often means girls are unable to go to school. Many families cannot afford the costs of school uniforms and books. They prioritize essential needs such as food and shelter, as well as sending boys to school, over girls’ education. With the help of Girl Up, the UN is working to make sure that Somali refugee girls in Ethiopia are healthy, safe and educated. Girls receive school materials, solar lamps to study at night, and scholarships to attend school. The program also builds toilets and creates access to water in schools in order to keep learning environments safe and healthy.


On average, girls living in regions where Girl Up supports programming have less than three years of schooling. Girls with no schooling face a bleak future; instead of learning to read and write, they are more likely to experience early marriage and childbearing. Girl Up supports UN programs in two of the most excluded and vulnerable regions of Guatemala– Totonicapán and Huehuetenango. Examples of supported programs include providing educational materials in local, indigenous languages to make learning easier and giving girls forced to drop out of school a second chance.


Coming out of a 14-year long civil war, many girls in Liberia have not had the chance to go to school or have started school in their late teens. More than 40 percent of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 have never received a formal education. Girl Up supports UN programs that focus on mobilizing parents, teachers and PTAs to enroll girls in school, provides school uniforms and materials and also conducts literacy and numeracy classes for out-of-school girls.


Malawi has one of the worst records in the world for education and a very high level of poverty. Many girls are forced to drop out because of their inability to afford school fees, the need to help earn an income and the complications that come with early marriage and early childbearing. Alongside the UN, Girl Up gives girls the opportunity to learn how to read and write. Girl Up also makes sure at-risk girls have funds to pay for school fees and uniforms. All-girls science camps provide role models and classes that increase girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and math.


India has the largest population of adolescents in the world.  Unfortunately, adolescent girls in this country face many challenges.  Girls are often not allowed to go to school, especially in rural areas.  Girl Up supports UNFPA’s Action for Adolescent Girls Initiative in one of India’s most populated regions, Rajasthan.  One of the initiative’s main goals is to provide life skills and job skills for girls and women, as well as provide education to more girls, especially girls who are not enrolled in school.  In addition, the initiative creates a network of adolescent peer educators, so that girls can help reach and teach other girls.