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Putting Girls’ Education at the Heart of the Agenda

©UNICEF/2013/Rick Bajornas
NEW YORK, 12 March 2014 – ‘A serious gender imbalance in global education has left over 100 million young women in low and lower middle income countries unable to read a single sentence, and will prevent half of the 31 million girls out of school from ever enrolling.’ These are among the main findings of the Gender Summary of the latest UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report that was launched earlier this week at a side-event to the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and also framed the panel discussion at the event.

On 10 March, UNGEI joined partners, UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GMR), UNICEF, Education International (EI), Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) and Plan International to host ‘To 2015 and Beyond: Putting Girls' Education at the Heart of the Agenda’. Held at UNICEF House in New York, the meeting brought together members of international agencies, governments, NGOs and permanent missions to the United Nations.

Launch of the Gender Summary
UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Omar Abdi provided the welcoming remarks and stated, “Education has the power to transform lives, especially for girls, their families and their communities. Girls’ education must be at the forefront of new education goals after 2015.”

Chernor Bah, Youth Engagement Lead for A World at School and Chairperson of the Global Education First Initiative’s Youth Advocacy Group, moderated the event and began with a heartfelt story of a 23 year old woman whom he met recently in Ethiopia. She said to him, “Why does it have to be so hard for me [to get an education], just because I am a girl?” In these few lines, she was able to remind him – and all of us – “what we are fighting for, what this is all about,” said Mr. Bah.

Pauline Rose, Former Director of the EFA GMR, then took the stage and presented the findings from the Gender Summary of the 11th Annual Global Monitoring Report, highlighting the deep gender disparities within the global learning crisis. “By 2015, many countries will not have reached gender parity in education…[out of the] 31 million primary school aged girls out of school, 55 per cent are expected never to enrol.” Dr. Rose emphasized that this issue needs to be addressed from many perspectives, including more attention to teachers. “We need to put teachers at the heart of reform; teachers need to be trained in a gender-sensitive manner and need equal distribution of male and female teachers,” said Dr. Rose.

The presentation was followed by an interactive panel discussion that included distinguished guests: Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Australia (GEFI Champion State); Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women; Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO; Ms. Susan Hopgood, President, Education International; and Mr. Olaf Thommessen, National Director, Norway, Plan International.

During the panel discussion, one message was clear across the board: Girls’ education needs to be at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda. Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasized, “Our ability to invest in girls will determine if we can reach the sustainable development goals.”

Ms. Bokova further articulated the message: “Is the UN serious about eradicating severe poverty? If so, we have to look at girls’ education.”

According to the new report, girls also need more female teachers, often for cultural reasons, and to provide a role model to keep them from dropping out of school. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, female teachers make up less than 40 per cent of the total teaching workforce in all countries at the upper secondary level. Ms. Susan Hopgood noted, “We need quality teachers, quality gender-sensitive tools and quality environments.”

The global learning crisis must be tackled by a range of actors. Mr. Thommessen highlighted the importance of civil society in program implementation. “The role of civil society is the difference between succeeding and not succeeding at the local level.”

Minister Cash from Australia noted how donor countries can contribute to the effort to get all girls in school and learning, “Donor countries must ensure gender concerns are integrated into all programs and continue to advocate.”

This panel discussion along with the findings from the Gender Summary reinforced the importance of investing in girls’ and women’s education, not just for the individual, but for the whole of society. Getting all children in school, especially girls, increases the success in all other development areas such as poverty, health and nutrition.

Minister Cash from Australia brought the message home: “Education is the vaccine of the 21st century.”

The event was Livestreamed and available here in its entirety. Participants in the room and those joining via Livestream provided questions to the panellists via Twitter. To view the photostream for this event, please click here.

Continue the conversation and #investingirls!


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