Champions for girls’ education: celebrities, charities and leaders campaigning for change

A Student Stands In The Library Of The Kibera School For Girls In Nairobi Kenya
A student in the library of the Kibera School For Girls in Nairobi, Kenya (Theirworld / Adriane Ohanesian)

Barriers to education, Celebrities, Girls' education, Global Youth Ambassadors, Gordon Brown, International Women's Day, Malala's speech, Right to education, Technology and education, The Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education), What is advocacy?

Ahead of International Women's Day on March 8 and as part of Theirworld's #RewritingTheCode campaign, we look at some of the people and organisations who are putting girls' education in the spotlight.

Girls have the same right to education as boys. Education helps them to fulfil their potential and make informed choices. Educating girls saves lives and builds stronger families, communities and economies.

But more than 60 million girls around the world are out of school. As we head towards International Women’s Day on March 8, Theirworld’s #RewritingTheCode campaign is raising awareness about the prejudice girls face globally.

We want a future where no girl is left out of the classroom or denied the chance to be a future leader.

And we’re not alone. There are some amazing champions of girls’ education out there – here’s a look at some of the people and organisations who are spreading the word.


Shakira 5

The Pies Descalzos Foundation was founded by Shakira when she was just 18 years old (Fundación Pies Descalzos)

The singing superstar is a passionate campaigner who is a member of the global Education Commission, is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, runs an educational foundation in Colombia called Pies Descalzo and also handed in Theirworld’s #UpForSchool Petition with 10 million signatures to the United Nations.

“Investing in girls’ education has proved to increase economic growth. Every year invested in primary education for girls improves their income in future by 10% to 20%,” said Shakira.

Ann Cotton and Camfed

The founder of Camfed (Campaign for Female Education), which is helping to tackle poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women. In 2014, Ann won the 2014 WISE Prize For Education.

“Girls’ education is a human right,” she said in her acceptance speech. “And along with its fundamental justice it promises so much for the individual, for her family, for society, for all of us.”

Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors

Our worldwide network of 500 young campaigners in more than 80 countries – they advocate for change around the world, including ensuring girls get equal access to learning.

On International Women’s Day each year, our GYAs organise events, hold advocacy workshops, make videos, visit schools and use social media to spread the message about gender equality and girls’ education in their communities. 

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson Visits Kinnaid Girls School In Lahore

Boris Johnson visits Kinnaid Girls School in Lahore , Pakistan, in 2016 (Twitter / @BorisJohnson,

Britain’s Foreign Secretary spoke about the need for girls’ education this week as he announced a new Special Envoy for Gender Equality to lead the UK’s efforts to deliver a coherent international approach to ensuring the rights of women and girls.

In a newspaper article on the same day, he wrote: “There is one step that would improve countless lives – and make the world an infinitely better place – if only every government summoned the will to make it happen. Let me spell out what needs to be done: make sure that all girls go to school. “

Rihanna, GPE and Global Citizen

The singer has just been recognised for her work in advocating for education and health care and speaking up for girls and women. This week she was given the Harvard Foundation award for Humanitarian of the Year

Rihanna supports the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project – a multi-year campaign to provide children with access to education in over 60 developing countries, giving priority to girls.

Malala Yousafzai, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz

In 2012 Malala was shot in the head on her school bus by the Pakistani Taliban for speaking out about the right of girls to be educated. The following year she addressed the UN to give her famous Malala Day speech.

Her friends Shazia and Kainat were also injured in the bus attack. All three have campaigned for the right of girls to go to school.

Erna Solberg

The Norwegian prime minister was one of the driving forces behind several major education achievements last year. She is co-convener of the global Education Commission and Norway hosted the historic World Humanitarian Summit when the Education Cannot Wait fund was unveiled.

“Investing in the education of girls can become transformative for an entire nation,” she has said. 

Because I Am a Girl

This fantastic video was released for last year’s International Women’s Day.

Because I am a Girl is a global movement driven by Plan International to ensure girls everywhere can learn, lead, decide and thrive. 

Antonio Guterres

He became Secretary-General of the UN in January after a decade as UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

After being named to the post, he said: “The protection and the empowerment of women and girls will continue to be a priority commitment for me.”

Michelle Obama and Let Girls Learn

In 2015 the former US First Lady launched Let Girls Learn to help adolescent girls get a quality education and fulfil their potential.

“So much could be corrected in the world if girls were educated and had power over their lives,” she said last year.

Holly Gordon and Girl Rising

Holly is the co-founder of Girl Rising, a global campaign for girls’ education and empowerment that uses storytelling to inspire action that gets girls into classrooms worldwide.

“I take my hat off to every single woman who uses her human capacity to improve the lives of others,” she said.

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown Adresses Gbc Education Event In Washington Dc

Like Erna Solberg, Gordon has been instrumental in helping to push through many significant education achievements. He is UN Special Envoy for Global Education, the co-chair of the Education Commission and was key to the Education Cannot Wait fund being launched last year.

“Education rights for girls is the civil rights struggle of our time,” he has said.

Graca Machel

Graca Machel Talks To Theirworld President Sarah Brown At The Up For School Town Hall Event In 2015

Graca Machel talks to Theirworld President Sarah Brown at the #UpForSchool Town Hall event in 2015 (Getty Images for #UpforSchool)

One of the world’s leading advocates for women’s and children’s rights, she was First Lady of TWO countries – Mozambique and South Africa.

“We must break down the walls that prevent all girls from receiving quality education,” she has said.

Girl Effect

It uses the latest ideas in media, technology and girl-centred community engagement to challenge discriminatory gender norms and start conversations about how girls are viewed in society.

CEO Farah Ramzan Golant said: “There is clear conviction and a growing evidence base that girls can become pivotal change makers for themselves and their communities.”

Julia Gillard

The former Australian prime minister is Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education – it supports 65 developing countries to ensure every child receives a quality, basic education.

In 2016 she said: “The world is talking about girls’ education and there is an impetus for change … The shooting of Malala, the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram, and the increased evidence of how transformative girls education is.”

Jakaya Kikwete

Former Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete Visits A Girls School

The former president of Tanzania is a member of the global Education Commission – and has been a champion of girls’ education, health and empowerment.

He has said educating girls will contribute to improving Tanzania’s economy.

Freida Pinto

The Indian actor is helping girls to get a quality education around the world through her work with Let Girls Learn and Girl Up.

“It’s important for girls to be able to stand their ground. It’s important for you to not be shy to raise your voices,” she said.

Girl Up

The UN Foundation’s campaign for adolescent girls, it engages girls to take action. Girl Up is led by a community of nearly 500,000 passionate advocates raising awareness and funds.

It works with the UN to ensure girls have access to quality education and complete schooling from nursery through secondary school).

Sheikha Moza and Educate a Child

Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser of Qatar launched the global initiative Educate a Child, which aims to significantly reduce the numbers of children worldwide who are missing out on their right to education.

“The chance of an education is a chance to escape poverty, to improve health and to enhance opportunities,” she said. “Education can transform lives and change societies.”

Global Business Coalition for Education

Founded in 2012, GBC-Education brings together the business community to accelerate progress in delivering quality education to all children and youth. It has a membership of more than 100 influential private sector companies.

GBC-Education members collectively have an impact on the lives of six million girls through investments in empowerment, mentoring and safe schools, focusing in particular on the use of technology to improve access to education for the most marginalised girls.

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo With Girls From The Batonga Foundation

Angelique Kidjo with girls from the Batonga Foundation

The singer and activist from Benin is a longtime supporter of education for all and women’s rights. She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and when she won a second Grammy Award in 2015 she dedicated it to “the women of Africa”.

Angelique founded the Batonga Foundation, which helps girls take the lead in changing Africa through scholarships, building schools and other projects.

Bring Back Our Girls

Bring Back Our Girls Protest In Nigeria

A group established after the abduction of more than 270 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, by Boko Haram. As well as campaigning for the release of the students, they are advocates for girls’ education.

Bring Back Our Girls spokesperson Aisha Yusufu said: “Fighting for the Chibok girls is fighting for the little girl I was so many years ago, who was crying out for help and no one came. I just know I could never give up on them.”

Dr Jill Biden

The American educator and former US Second Lady is a campaigner for girls’ education and economic empowerment for women. She focused on girls’ education during tours of Africa and Asia.

“Every day, women and girls are finding incredible confidence and taking risks,” she said. “When they change one mind, pretty soon, they have changed one tradition. That changed tradition has changed a village. That one village has changed a country. “

Beyoncé and Chime for Change

The Chime for Change campaign was co-founded in 2013 by Beyoncé to raise funds for girls’ education, justice and health globally. It is committed to continue fighting for the rights of girls and women everywhere.

“Girls have to be taught from early on that they are strong and capable of being anything they want to be,” she said. “It’s up to us to change the statistics for women around the world…and set an example for the next generation of young ladies.”

Poverty is Sexist/ONE

The advocacy website ONE says: “Right now, 130 million girls are out of school. You wouldn’t be where you are today without an education – and it’s in your power right now to help these girls get access to an education.”

The Poverty is Sexist letter, which has more than 340,000 signatures so far, will be delivered in person to leaders all across the globe on International Women’s Day.

Ban Ki-moon

He was UN Secretary-General for 10 years and made education for all – particularly girls – one of his priorities.

Last year he was awarded the first ever Delivering for Girls and Women award by global gender equality advocates Women Deliver in recognition of his work and achievements to improve the lives of women and girls.

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