By Noel Schroeder —

In February, Women Thrive and its partners were in Kigali, Rwanda to advocate for girls’ education at the Sub-Saharan Africa Ministerial Conference on Education Post-2015, a key milestone in the road to the United Nations’ sustainable development agenda.

Like its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals, the sustainable development agenda will set ambitious global goals to reduce poverty and address issues like peace, environmental stewardship, gender equality and education from 2016-2030. This effort is a big deal – the world is coming together once again to tackle today’s most persistent global problems.

Over the last two years, experts have been convened, consultations at national, regional, and global levels have been held, and processes have been set up to attempt to ensure that women and men in developing countries have a real say in the Sustainable Development Goals – something that didn’t happen last time around with the Millennium Development Goals. Because the process is more inclusive, we have a better shot at adopting an agenda that reflects the realities and needs of people around the globe.

The Kigali conference was one of the final moments for education ministers to convene prior to the new set of goals being shared at the UN General Assembly in September, and it was a critically important opportunity for civil society organizations to ensure that policymakers hear the needs of women and girls. You can read more about their case for parity in education here.

What’s needed now is to turn that commitment into action. There is not much time left to finalize the next set of global development goals, which will determine priorities for education spending and programming for the next 15 years. The Millennium Development Goals mobilized action to put millions of children into schools, but now–after 15 years–we see that more than 50 million children, mostly girls, have still never attended school; and for those that have, learning outcomes can be frighteningly low.

Compared to their male counterparts, girls are more likely to be out of school and to face barriers that prevent them from learning and achieving. In her speech in Kigali, Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Executive Director Hendrina Doroba emphasized the urgency of prioritizing girls, gender equity and equality on this road to setting the development agenda:

“There are still 10 million school-age girls [in Africa], particularly from marginalised communities and those living with disabilities, who are not attending primary and secondary school. As well, many learners are at the risk of dropping out of school due to factors ranging from gender biased learning environment, school related gender based violence, adolescent pregnancy, and child marriage.”

It is critical that voices like Hendrina’s, which can speak to the complexity of issues that impede girls’ access to quality education, continue to be included in the creation of the sustainable development agenda and its goal on education.

Bringing these issues to the attention of the international community now will direct how development funding is prioritized for the next 15 years.

The next big opportunity for these voices to be heard on global education issues will be the World Education Forum in Incheon, Korea in May. There, policy-makers and civil society organizations will agree on a collective vision on the post-2015 education agenda.

Women Thrive is working with our partners to ensure that women and girls are prioritized in that vision.

Two conferences will follow  the World Education Forum; these meetings will decide how to pay for efforts to reach these aspirational, transformative global development goals. The Oslo Summit on Education for Development and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia will set priorities and mechanisms for funding the sustainable development goals, including education.

The gap between what is spent on education globally and what is needed to provide quality learning opportunities to all children is about $22 billion. To close that financing gap and reach the proposed goal of “ensure[ing] inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” governments bilateral donors and multilateral agencies must commit at these conferences to targeting more funding to education, and specifically focusing on those most marginalized groups, like girls.

Women Thrive and our partners like ANCEFA and FAWE have pledged to ensure that girls’ education is not left behind at the end of the road to setting a global development agenda. To add your voice to the conversation and speak out for women and girls, sign the Up For School petition, show that you prioritize girls’ education in the My World survey, and use our advocacy tools to learn more and get involved.