Dr. Mercy Tembon of the World Bank on the success stories she will mention in her presentation on financing gender equality in education.
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NEW YORK, USA, 26 February 2008 – The 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women is under way at the United Nations. Focusing on the priorities of financing gender equality and empowering women, the annual forum commenced yesterday with a panel of experts hosted by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), UNICEF and the Working Group on Girls of the NGO Committee on UNICEF.
Chaired by UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson, the panel addressed the economics of gender equality through the lens of girls’ education.
“There is ample evidence that investing in education for girls is the most profitable investment for a country,” said Ms. Johnson during her opening remarks.
Approximately 93 million school-age children are out of school today. The majority of these children are girls. While the enrolment rates for girls have improved greatly in recent years, those gains fall off as young girls mature. Completion rates remain low and drop-out rates are still a challenge.
During her address, Ms. Johnson mentioned a 14-year-old Cambodian girl named Taxi who, with just a few months till graduation, quit school to make money for her family. “There are many too many Taxis,” she said.
The good news, according to experts at the panel, is that many governments are addressing the gender gap.
Dr. Jyotsna Jha, an advisor at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, said ‘gender responsive budgeting’, or the consideration of gender in national sector budgeting, is becoming more common in India and southern Africa. Still, about 30 million Commonwealth children do not attend primary school..
To aid progressive policy planners, the Commonwealth Secretariat has just published a handbook entitled ‘Gender in Primary and Secondary Education’. It joins earlier guides to gender mainstreaming in the HIV, poverty-eradication and social-protection sectors.
“The knowledge of the importance of gender equality is being taken on board,” said Dr. Mercy Tembon of the World Bank, noting increased donor and government allocations as well as policy initiatives such as scholarships, fee abolition and cash transfers.
Dr. Tembon said there are many success stories in Africa. In Burkina Faso, for example, the government allocates 71 per cent of its budget to education. In Guinea, girls' enrolment rates have quadrupled in five years. But, she added, these “extreme efforts” are not always enough to close a widening gap, particularly where population growth outpaces funding.
UNGEI and the Fast Track Initiative
For its part, UNGEI partners with the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (FTI) to ensure the inclusion of a gender component in national plans for FTI countries.
“The Fast Track Initiative is the major player in terms of financing basic education in developing countries that have limited resources,” said UNGEI’s Cheryl Gregory Faye. “But in some technical areas, the Fast Track Initiative needs further support, and gender is of course UNGEI’s particular comparative advantage.”
That expertise has allowed UNGEI and partners to start developing an inclusion framework for national education plans that will encompass HIV/AIDS, child labour and childhood disabilities as key areas of focus alongside gender equality.
Ruthi Hoffman-Hanchett of World Vision, representing the NGO community, delivered the message that the primary responsibility in financing girls’ education lies with governments. She stressed that NGOs can play an important role in supporting governments through technical assistance, advocacy, research and data collection, but that the accountability should rest on states themselves.
Hoffman-Hanchett urged participants not to refer to girls as units of productivity, but as bearers of rights – an idea that was echoed by an audience member, who said: “Girls should be celebrated for who they are.”
The Commission on the Status of Women continues at the UN until 7 March and will also include high-level meetings on the topics of women and climate change, and women in conflict prevention.