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Success stories highlighted at UNESCO-UNICEF breakfast meeting on Women’s and Girls’ Education

On 17 June, children sit outside a tent in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

“Expanding women and girls’ education means progress across all development goals”, UNESCO’s Director-General affirmed at the opening of the ministerial breakfast meeting organized as part of the 2010 high-level segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

NEW YORK, USA, 07 July 2010. The event, co-chaired by the executive heads of UNESCO and UNICEF, brought together over 50 ministers, policy-makers, senior UN officials and representatives of civil society to assess the current state of women and girls’ education worldwide and determine what needs to be done to achieve gender equality by 2015.  

Many success stories were highlighted. Female education stipends in Bangladesh, targeted efforts to train and deploy female teachers in rural areas in Egypt, and safety nets to support girls from the poorest families in Morocco were among the innovative strategies mentioned as helping to expand educational opportunities for young women and girls, in particular the most vulnerable and marginalized.  

However, significant obstacles remain. Poverty remains a major force for exclusion. “There is a direct correlation between the level of education in a country and the level of poverty”, stated the Ambassador of Mauritius, who moderated the discussion. Speakers drew attention to gender stereotypes and cultural attitudes as among the greatest barriers to gender equality, and called for stronger efforts to engage community and religious leaders behind girls’ education and, more broadly, in the words of one speaker (Ambassador Verveer), “elevate the value of the girl in society”. Violence against girls, child labour and early child marriage were also mentioned as major challenges, as was the need for much greater action to protect women and girls in situations affected by conflict.  

However, participants advised against seeing girls as victims and urged the importance of focusing instead on how education can be a powerful vehicle for empowerment, not just for the individual but the whole community. Emphasis was also placed on the need to work more with men and boys if gender discrimination in education was to be effectively addressed. 

In his concluding remarks, the Executive-Director of UNICEF called for a stronger focus on equity when working towards international development goals. Without greater efforts to meet the needs of the poorest and disadvantaged, the international community risks facing a “statistical success that masks a moral failure”, he said. He also argued the importance of an integrated approach, bringing together health, gender and educational initiatives, as the most effective way to accelerate progress towards 2015.   

Heads of UNESCO and UNICEF host breakfast meeting on women’s and girls’ education


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