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Education Cannot Wait High Level Financing Conference: An opportunity for world leaders to step up for crisis-affected children and youth

In emergency situations, communities become vulnerable, and often it is the most vulnerable who are left behind. Education is a human right, and it is important to ensure that education continues.

Aminata, Plan International Youth Advocate, Y4EiE, Mali

If they allow, we will study. If they make school for us, then we can study.

Adolescent Rohingya Girl, 16, Bangladesh

The climate crisis, conflicts, forced displacement, and the global hunger crisis – compounded by the fallout of Covid-19 – are disrupting children and young people’s access to education at an unprecedented scale.

According to global estimates, 222 million crisis-affected children and adolescents are in need of urgent education support. Across Ukraine, by the end of January 2023, 2641 education facilities had been damaged and 420 destroyed. The education of over 70% of Ukrainian children has been impacted since the escalation of the conflict in February 2022.

Yet, education in emergencies and protracted crises (EiEPC) continues to be severely underfunded in humanitarian responses. The education sector receives significantly less than the target of 4% of global humanitarian aid. Just 43% of aid requests for the education sector were funded in 2019.

Failure to prioritise EiEPC is having disastrous consequences for the most marginalised children around the world, hampering global progress to achieve SDG 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education for all.

There has been progress over the last decade, including the establishment of Education Cannot Wait. Launched in 2016, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, which has since reached 7 million children and adolescents globally with quality education.

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On 16 – 17 February, hundreds of delegates including children and young people will convene in Geneva for the ECW High-Level Financing Conference (HLFC) which aims to mobilise $1.5 billion for ECW to deliver its strategic plan over the next four years. The conference is an opportunity for world leaders to step up and commit to action to support crisis-affected children all over the world.

Here is what we, at Plan International UK, hope to see focussed on at the conference:

1. Prioritising gender equality in EiEPC

The scale of the EiEPC problem is significant. For adolescent girls in particular, the impacts of conflict and crisis are devastating and compound the barriers they already face in accessing primary and secondary education. Currently 54% of the 78.2 million children who are out of school in crisis-affected countries are girls.

During times of crisis, girls and young women face increased exposure to child, early and forced marriage, trafficking, and sexual exploitation, marking an end to their access to education. Eliminating barriers to girls’ education through free quality, inclusive and flexible learning opportunities is vital in crisis-affected countries to ensure continuous learning.

We know that everyone has the right to education, but it is also lifesaving during emergencies, especially for girls and young women, because we learn to protect ourselves and others against gender-based violence which also gives us better opportunities for the future.

Nataly, Y4EiE Panel Member, Ecuador

However, action needs to go beyond securing access to education for girls. Education systems, particularly in conflict-affected countries, must dismantle rigid gender norms and stereotypes right from the start by promoting gender-transformative education.

This aims to equip teachers and learners with the knowledge and skills required to examine, challenge, and change harmful gender norms, attitudes and practices, and wider intersecting inequalities. The ECW HLFC is an opportunity for governments, donors and organisations to commit to prioritise gender-transformative approaches and place gender equality at the heart of education sector plans, emergency response plans, budgets and policies.

2. Significant funding commitments

Action to deliver for education in emergencies cannot happen without significant funding placed behind it. In the UK, the Send My Friend Coalition is calling for the UK Government to pledge of at least £170 million to ECW over the next four years.

In addition to pledges to ECW, we are joining others to call on the global community to allocate 10% of humanitarian funding to education, matching the EU’s target announced in 2019.

3. Commitments to meaningful youth engagement

The Youth for Education in Emergencies (Y4EiE) Global Panel is also calling for youth to be meaningfully included in EiEPC decision-making spaces. The experiences, and solutions, identified by young people affected by crisis need to not only take centre stage at the ECW HLFC, but should also inform humanitarian responses, policies and funding allocations. Governments and donors need to be accountable to young people and ensure that funding is flexible and accessible by grassroot youth organisations who are at the forefront of advocating for EiEPC.

The ECW HLFC is an opportunity for governments, donors and organisations to stand strong with girls, young women and youth advocates to identify solutions to education challenges in crisis-affected contexts.

At a time of ever-growing crises, governments around the world must not turn their backs on the millions of children in need of support. Now it’s time for the global community to act.


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