iwd_5 On this day, ninety-nine years ago, the first International Women’s Day was declared. And yet, almost a century on, women and girls continue to struggle on many fronts. There is inequality, discrimination, violence, poverty and exploitation – that particularly affects women and girls across the world – and even here at home. We don’t have to travel far from our homes to see it in action.

But if we have learned anything from the last century, it is this – that change is possible. As Ann Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director points out:

Education is one key to better lives for girls, their families and their communities. Expert studies estimate that every extra year a girl spends in secondary education lifts her income by more than 15 per cent. Better educated girls have better employment and health prospects and, as they grow to womanhood, they pass these benefits to their children.

I have been a strong believer in the power of education for years. As a member of the board of Reading Partners, I see the benefits first hand. I see the benefits in my community, and as a business woman, in the intelligent, educated young women who are starting their careers. But most of all, I see the benefits that education brings these young girls and their families.

At Reading Partners, we see (on average) students jump an entire grade level in reading skills after only 30 hours of tutoring. The impact of this is immediate and lasting. It changes the students perspectives of themselves, and it changes that way that they relate to the world, their families and communities. It opens the door of opportunity, and it sets in train, a process of ongoing learning which benefits future generations (with mothers teaching and supporting the education of their children).

Programs like these exist all over the world. And somewhere, there is a young girl in need of a better education. She may be living in your neighborhood, or in a country on the other side of the planet. But if you can only do one thing this International Women’s Day – find a way to support a young girl’s education. The world will be a better place for it.