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Missed Target Triggers Call for Bold Steps - Will they be Enough?

©Oxfam/Geoff Sayer
Schoolgirls in Kenya. When fees were abolished in Kenya, 1.5 million additional children were able to go to school.

2005 was an historic year. As world leaders gathered at the G8 Summit in June, and the World Summit in September an unprecedented mobilisation of global civil society came together to demand urgent action to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals are met. However, although summit leaders responded with promises of new aid, they remained deafeningly silent about their collective failure to reach the first MDG target – to get equals numbers of girls and boys into primary and secondary school by 2005.

At the end of the year, a series of meetings in Beijing brought together the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), the Education For All High Level Group and the Fast Track. Initiative (FTI) partnership. These meetings offered a last chance for the international community to address the issue of the missed 2005 target, and hopes were high that they would galvanize the urgent action needed to ensure that, as we moved forwards into 2006, real progress on gender equality in education could be made.

The High Level Group communiqué did, for the first time, acknowledge the magnitude of the missed gender parity target. Disappointingly however, as the three meetings drew to a close, no firm action plan had been made to ensure that a fair share of the aid increases promised at the G8 summit would be invested in guaranteeing gender equitable basic education for all. Despite this, the outcomes of the discussions that took place in Beijing, and events that have followed do offer some hope for making progress on gender equality as we move into 2006 and beyond.

Engendering the FTI

The Education for All Fast Track Initiative (FTI), launched in 2002, is a global partnership, between donor and developing countries to ensure accelerated progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education by 2015. Despite its continued under-funding, it represents a key mechanism for supporting investment in education in countries with developed and far reaching education plans.

However, although gender equality is clearly a crucial element in the achievement of UPE, until now the FTI’s ability to actively promote gender equality and gender equitable education has been limited. A review of gender in the FTI commissioned by United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) found that although there are some examples of FTI processes resulting in an improved focus on gender, the FTI does not appear to have consistently and systematically encouraged the integration of gender in national education plans. Particular weaknesses identified in FTI endorsed plans include those elements relating to going “beyond access” and achieving gender equity in terms of educational quality, not just gender parity in enrolments.

At the FTI partnership meeting in Beijing, participants recognised that the failure to make gender an integrated part of the FTI’s goals, guiding principals and appraisal process is a weakness, and the steering committee resolved to implement the main recommendations that emerged from the UNGEI review.

Recommendations on gender accepted by the FTI steering committee:

  • With support from the UNGEI Secretariat, revisit the FTI Goals and Guiding Principles with a view to including an explicit commitment to the gender equality goals and ensuring that the FTI promotes a consistent, holistic, rightsbased approach to gender.

  • With support from the UNGEI Secretariat, strengthen the FTI Assessment and Endorsement Guidelines:
    • Mainstream gender across the six steps, ensure gender-disaggregation of all relevant indicators and include a clearer presentation of overall strategic policy objectives and main strategies for achieving these
    • In addition to the standard requirement to check with the PRSP, an assessment of country “readiness” to progress towards gender equality could include a review of country responses to the Beijing Platform for Action, action taken with regard to CEDAW, HIV and AIDS National Plans etc.

?Agreeing to the implementation of the UNGEI recommendations is a clear step forward for the FTI. The next step is ensuring that this commitment is put into practice and that the FTI process is able to add real value to country led processes to make progress on promoting greater gender equality. Moreover, if the potential for the FTI to promote gender equitable education is to be fulfilled it is crucial that it is fully funded and expanded, especially to countries where gender gaps are large. This requires donors to come forward with massive funding increases over and above the immediate financing gap, which is currently more than $500 million for the 20 fully FTI endorsed countries alone.  

+ Read full article in Equals: Issue 16, January-March 2006 [PDF]


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