What would your life be like with only five years of schooling? It is startling to think that despite huge progress over the past decade towards achieving gender equality in education, for many girls across the globe the most education that they will receive is just five years. Although the participation levels of boys and girls in primary and secondary education is now getting closer, an astonishing 35 million girls are still out of school.

Children of road workers near Rishikesh, India.

We see this gap in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, as well as amongst disadvantaged groups. If we focus on the poorest fifth of the population in the DR Congo, a girl would study three fewer years than a boy who is of the same socioeconomic level. This results in a cumulative gender bias building up, limiting the overall opportunities available in life to a woman and exacerbates existing inequalities.

For more than nine decades, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has been at the forefront of global learning and the power of women’s leadership is what drives several key initiatives at the institute. IIE’s Higher Education Readiness (HER) program, being piloted in Ethiopia and We-Tech, an IIE-led initiative being piloted in Africa and India are two examples. With goals to give girls access to higher education, technology training, and leadership skills, these innovative programs are investing in a resource essential to our future: the education of women and girls.

Source: Global Partnership for Education; World Development Report 2012; UNESCO & UNICEF. Designed by @DFID_UK

As a student reading International Development at King’s College London, I have recently been involved in a project with the International Women’s Academy (IWA). The main goal of the IWA is to propel young women into future leadership positions in business, government and community. In order to achieve this, the IWA: forms connections with female leaders of industry, commerce, academia and finance; creates links between local schools and universities; and extends contacts to schools, universities and companies in other countries. The IWA also has a network of clubs within girls schools, whose members work collaboratively on project and fundraising activities. The revenue from these fundraisers are then invested into education and therefore empowerment of less privileged female members of society. In order to create employment opportunities and capabilities for women to become leaders through quality education, we need to bridge the inequality gap between elite and less resourced schools by establishing a schooling network that shares resources and teaching in real-time.

There has been progress, but gender equality in education has not been fully or consistently achieved around the world. This is why the COINS Foundation and other NGOS and charities continue to invest in girls and women, particularly early in life and in ways that are the most likely to benefit them, their families, and the societies in which they live.

One of our partners - PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools)