I always felt strongly that your gender should not determine whether you gain access to education or not, so you can imagine my disappointment at the new statistic from UNESCO on the girl child access to education. Presently in Nigeria, we have 34% of primary school-aged girls out of school, 18% of these numbers will enter late while 78% will never go to school. It is almost as if people still think girls need not go to school because a woman’s place is in the home.

I thought we had made progress with Millennium Development Goal 3 – promote gender equality and empower women. The report from UNDP scored Nigeria high for increasing the ratio of girls to boys in primary education by 1.01%. The general consensus is that as many girls as boys are completing basic and even secondary education. The Government had done a good job putting the word out and changing the way people thought about girl education.

It seems we were totally off mark. We still have parents that wrongly believe it’s less important to educate a girl than a boy. Girls should stay at home to help with chores or farm work while the boys strut on to school. Sometimes the girls are married off way too early and their responsibility becomes catering for their husband and children. Some parents do this because they’re poor and feel they need to prioritise, but sometimes they just do not see a need to educate a girl child.

It’s been proven worldwide that educating girls has many long-term impacts on the society they reside in. For a girl in a developing country like Nigeria, every additional year she spends in school after primary three leads to a 20% increase in her incoming earning. Girls and women are known to invest in everybody else when they have the funds and this translates to immediate invest in the economy. For every 10% more girls that go to school, a country GDP increase by an average of 3%. Investing in the girl child has never been a negative instead by not offering the girl child the same opportunities as boys, developing countries like Nigeria looses averagely 90 billion dollars per year.

With increased access to high quality education, girls can also earn more money and get better jobs than they would if they didn’t go to school. With that they’ll be better placed to support their family and meet their needs without having to depend on someone else. They can also contribute more to the economy, if women in every country played identical role in market to men as much as 28 trillion dollars would be added to the global economy by 2025.

Talking about achievement, girls usually have dreams about who they want to be in future and what they’d like to achieve. For girls that don’t get the chance to attend school, they probably will not have a say in who or what they become in the future. If the statistics are to be believed, 64% of girls without secondary education will marry very early and 59% will be victims of early pregnancy. Girls without education are forced to live a life chosen for them by everyone else but themselves. Imagine if we could get our girls in school and support them through it, we are giving them the opportunity to be the very best of whom they can possibly be.

Young women especially those from poorer socioeconomic background who have completed basic education have been known to make better health and lifestyle decisions. With basic education women from Mali have an average of three children while with no education the number goes as high as seven children. A woman’s access to basic education means she is more likely to seek prenatal care and assisted childbirth, which reduces maternal mortality by 66%. This same woman is 50% more likely to immunize her children as recommended thereby increasing the child chances of living past his/her fifth birthday by 50%. Every additional year the woman spends in school, child mortality rate reduces by 2%. The figures speak for themselves with education more Nigerian women can live a healthier and more productive life.

Hardworking women across the country contribute a good deal to our economy and send their children all the way to university by doing some trade or agriculture even if they’re not educated. We’ve got to acknowledge their input, but we also must remember that women can contribute a lot more to agriculture if they’re educated. According to the UN estimate, if women farmers had access to the same education as male farmers, food production will increase by 20% in developing countries. Educating a woman is the best way to fight hunger and poverty, according to USAID; this even outperforms increasing food supply through aid relief.

Women who are educated are also more likely to run for office and aspire others to leadership positions where they can make real change in their society. Women who are poor and uneducated often take a backseat in meetings where men (even uneducated) are discussing. But we can change this by getting our girls into school and supporting them through it. That way, they get more confident and become more aware about the roles they could play in their community and the society at large. With this they can run for office, lead movements, and do many other things for more inclusive and responsive system.

This year Americans will vote a new president and maybe have their first woman president. Now that can could only happen because their Government took deliberate steps to ensure every child had access to high quality education regardless of their gender. That is what is progressive and that is the change we seek – that one day in the near future we can make it happen in our own country too. That’s a great ambition—but it begins with making sure every Nigerian girl gains access to high quality education and is provided with the support she needs every step of the way.

By joining the conversation through #educationwewant, we can get the Ministry of Education to prioritises gender equality in education in the next four years. With effective policy implication, this singular act could cause a ripple effect in our socioeconomical development.