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GIRLS! WE CAN NO LONGER BE LEFT OUT!

A clarion call for education for every child - especially girls

Freetown, 8th July 2005: As global efforts intensify towards meeting the targets set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Sierra Leone today joins the campaign on the promotion of girls’ education with the launching of the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI).

The initiative which was inaugurated in April 2000 by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan at the World Education Forum in Dakar, is geared towards narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education and ensuring that by 2015, all children complete primary schooling with girls and boys having equal access to free and quality education at all levels.  UNICEF is the lead agency and Secretariat for UNGEI globally and works with an Advisory Committee composed of key partners who share in the planning, decision making, guidance and accountability of UNGEI.

The UNGEI strategy in Sierra Leone, through a well constituted partnership, therefore seeks to influence decision making and investments in education to ensure that gender equity and equality are addressed in education plans and programmes.  It will operate as a mechanism to advance education strategies in Sierra Leone.  UNGEI partners are expected to mobilise resources for both targeted project interventions and their respective country programmes. The Sierra Leone UNGEI will streamline its efforts through the strategic use of existing mechanisms such as Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSPs), Education for All (EFA) Action Plan, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and joint UN intervention strategies.

As such the UNGEI partnership embraces the UN system, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector, and communities and families. Current partners in Sierra Leone include Government Ministries and Institutions  including the Ministry of Education Science and Technology  (MEST) and the University of Sierra Leone (USL), the UN Gender Theme Group chaired by UNIFEM, other UN agencies;UNICEF, UNFPA, WFP, UNAMSIL and UNDP, national and international NGOs and Zonta Club among others.

In Sierra Leone, despite the significant gains made in school enrolment over the past few years, coupled with policies on free primary education for all children, free education for girls in first year of secondary education with provision of uniform and books, thousands of girls still do not have access to basic education. According to projections, over 300,000 children of school going age (6-15 years) in Sierra Leone are still out of school.  Sixty percent of these are girls. While the gender gap in primary school attendance is shrinking nationally due to the near parity in the western area, in many parts of the country, especially in the north and parts of the east, it still yawns wide. Whatever the exact figures, it is clear that far too many girls are still unable to have a seat in the classroom.  In order to meet the goal of universal primary education by 2015, it is crucial that there is shared responsibility by every stakeholder; parents, communities, donors and government.

There are still social and cultural barriers militating against girls’ education in this country.  Making universal primary education and gender parity in schools a reality will require some radical shifts in thinking and policies.   Education must be viewed as a fundamental human right, not as an optional add-on.  A quantum leap is therefore needed both to break down the barriers keeping girls out of school and to make school available to all children, both boys and girls.   

In the words of Geert Cappaleare, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone “Girls’ education is not about putting girls into classrooms instead of boys. It is about creating equal opportunities for all.  None of the world’s wealthier countries developed without making a significant investment in education”.

The issue of girls’ education is not unique to Sierra Leone; it is one of the most crucial issues facing the development community today.  Girls are the focus because disparities and inequalities in education leave girls disadvantaged more than boys, as girls are more vulnerable to poverty, hunger, physical and sexual abuse, trafficking and other forms of exploitation when left uneducated. They are more likely to die in child birth and are at greater risk of disease including HIV/AIDS. As such when girls are left out of school, the country is also left behind. 

On the other hand, educating girls has a multiplier effect.  It ensures that a woman is empowered to provide the best start for children and serves as one of the most effective means of combating many of the most profound challenges to human development, including HIV/AIDS.  Educated women are more likely to have healthy children and more likely to ensure that their children, both boys and girls, complete school. Girl’s education adds value to other development sectors, eases the strain on the health care system, reduces poverty and strengthens national economies.   Educated girls therefore are a uniquely positive force for development.  In order to address this disparity, girls’ education has therefore been strategically placed at the centre of global efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. 

The goal of universal primary education with equal opportunity for girls and boys is realistic, it is affordable, it is achievable and what’s more, it’s our children’s birthright. Let us join forces in this national effort and global partnership to make a difference for the children of this country.

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For further information, please contact:

Alexandra Westerbeek, Communication Officer UNICEF – Sierra Leone, awesterbeek@unicef.org Tel: 076– 601310 
Ikem Chiejine, Education Officer UNICEF – Sierra Leone,
ichiejine@unicef.org Tel: 076 - 918815


 

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