Education is the route to changing the world and people’s lives for the better. That is a stark statement, but it is true. On this International Day of Education, I reflect on my family’s journey and how much they valued school and learning. Back in the 1930s, in back-to-back terraced Manchester, my grandma was made to leave school at 12 and go to work in a shirt factory, missing her education. She has passed through my family a fierce appreciation of the power and opportunity that education can give. My grandma, my mum and me have all benefited a little bit in each generation from education.
You will notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is all women in that story, and that speaks to another truth. Education for women and girls is vital—vital for community advancement out of poverty; vital for the environmental stewardship of our planet; and vital for the health of individuals and families.
I was recently honoured to be appointed as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Mozambique, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Along with our excellent high commissioner, NneNne Iwuji-Eme, and her team, the UK’s focus on mutually beneficial trade is underpinned by another commitment of the Prime Minister: namely, our pledge to work so that all girls across the world get 12 years of quality education. For some communities in Mozambique, Africa and around the world, educating girls empowers women, helps lift communities out of poverty, fights back against violence against women and girls, and helps build bounce-back ability to today’s global challenges, such as the covid pandemic or the awful recent storms and flooding in southern Africa—I am thinking of you. My friends in Africa have all the skills and attitude to make things happen. It is a brave man or woman who tries to tell Mama Jay or Mama Patricia or Princess that they do not need an education or that they cannot start their own business or lead large teams of people—good luck with that, because those ladies are in charge. My grandma was like those African women, my friends. They have all the brains and skills, but less than 12 years of good education. In the 21st century, it should not take generations for women and girls to access what they need and set themselves up for life. This Government have rightly prioritised a pledge to work with the world to make that happen, and I personally pledge support, with my new friends in Mozambique, through all my actions, and to help them benefit in the same way that my family has done for generations.