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Girls’ education conference calls for accelerated action on reaching most excluded children

©UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0913/Ricci Shryock
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and Senegal’s Minister of Education and National Languages Kalidou Diallo shake hands at the UNGEI global conference on education and gender equality, in Dakar, the capital.

By Shivangi Shrivastava

DAKAR, 21 May 2010 – Even as the number of out of school children has dropped to a record low, the most vulnerable children who stand to benefit the most from education continue to be denied the opportunity to learn, global education leaders gathered here at the ‘Engendering Empowerment: Equality and Education (E4) conference said, calling for accelerated action to reverse this trend.

The E4 conference was organized by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) to mark the tenth anniversary of the UNGEI global partnership.  UNGEI was launched by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the World Education Forum, also in Dakar.

“The sad reality is that if our progress continues at its current pace, by 2015 there still will be approximately 56 million children out of school,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Mr. Anthony Lake, at the opening session of the meeting. He argued that it would be “morally indefensible and strategically short-sighted” to ignore these marginalized children, as “it is precisely on these ignored, forgotten children that we must refocus our efforts as we approach 2015.”

Girls, who in many societies are more excluded than boys, are at the core of development efforts, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDG 2, in particular, is a globally-agreed target of ensuring universal primary education by 2015.

Evidence shows that unleashing the potential of girls, by providing them a quality education is an effective tool to address poverty, fight disease, and grow economies.

Reaching the most marginalized girls will, however, be the biggest challenge.

“My experience says that the last mile is always the hardest,” said Ms. Graça Machel of the Elders, via a video message.

Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Africa Director, observed that arguments for girls’ education must be framed differently.  While girls’ education is a priority because of the valuable services educated girls render to their societies, it is now time to educate girls simply because it is the right thing to do. 

The Prime Minister of Senegal Mr. Souleymane Ndéné Ndiaye and the Senegal Minister of Preschool, Primary and Middle Secondary Education and National Languages,Mr. Kalidou Diallo were among those who addressed Monday’s opening ceremony, where over four hundred guests gathered at the Grand Amphitheater of the Meridien Conference Centre, to the strains of the kora and the balafon.

Prime Minister Ndiaye stressed that if the 2015 MDGs are to be met, then the global community must work in partnership to advance common goals. 

“Only when governments, international institutions, civil society work together unstintingly can we ensure that all girls receive an education,” he said.

At a press conference on Tuesday Mr. David Wiking, UNGEI Global Advisory Committee Co-Chair and Sida Team Director for Knowledge, Education and ICT, told reporters “while it is well known that 72 million children do not go to school, there are many more children who attend school, but do access relevant, meaningful learning.” 

Ms. Elizabeth King, Director of Education of the World Bank, Mr. Albert Motivans, Head of Education Indicators and Data Analysis at the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, and a panel of experts on violence against women and girls in post-conflict contexts addressed conference plenary sessions.  

Primary to secondary transition rates, retention rates, quality education and education of adolescent girls were identified as dynamics that must be tackled if the world is to reach the Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals.

To Educate a Girl, a girls’ education documentary shot in Uganda and Nepal, which also features a video message from UNGEI Global Honorary Chair Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, was premiered at the conference.

The three-day conference concluded on Thursday, with the Dakar Declaration on Accelerating Girls’ Education and Gender Equality that will galvanize the international community on the girls’ education agenda as the world looks to the MDG end date and beyond.
Sonia Yeo and Shimali Senanayake contributed to this report from New York.


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The E4 Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality Conference