News and Events: Press releases

Launch of the UNGEI Pakistan Girls’ Education Initiative Statement

Islamabad -- 9 December 2010
Distinguished participants and guests

It is for a very special event that we gather here today:  the launching of the Pakistan Girls’ Education Initiative (PGEI). I am extremely pleased to be here, and at the outset, please allow me to applaud and express my thanks to the organizers for their efforts to make this day possible, and for providing me the opportunity to address this eminent gathering.  

The formation of the PGEI comes at an opportune moment for Pakistan, which is facing grave challenges including the conflict situation in the northern areas, natural disasters and on-going development issues. Education – and particularly girls’ education – is under attack in some of the northern areas. Further, there has been major damage done to the educational infrastructure and teaching and learning as a result of catastrophic flooding, which has affected approximately 5 million children of school-going age. These emergencies have strong implications for the economy and growth of the country and the future of its citizens.

Against this context, with the commitment of the government of Pakistan to achieve the Millennium Development and Education for All goals, and with the active engagement of a diverse group of stakeholders committed to working in partnership, we can make the promise of quality education an enduring reality for the children of Pakistan.

In fact, I am delighted to join you at the start of an effort that will not only expand educational access for girls and boys in Pakistan, but also accelerate progress towards other development goals that Pakistan has set for itself.  Girls’ education is at the core of our collective development efforts.  No society can fully attain its development targets if girls and women are denied their right to education.

Evidence demonstrates that educating girls yields multiple benefits at multiple levels – to families, communities, nations, and certainly to girls themselves.  In this sense, educating girls is the single most leveraged investment available to developing countries as they strive to achieve socio-economic development.

Education is also not just a development imperative, but a human right, and a moral obligation.  It is the right of every girl and boy to attain a quality education that can provide them with a chance to better their lives.  

Despite this, every day, across the world, millions of girls continue to be denied their right to education.  As per recent estimates, of the nearly 68 million children not in school worldwide, more than half are girls.

Moreover, at the global level, over half of the girls who were not enrolled in school have never been to school, compared to about one third of boys.  On current trends, some 56 million children - over half of whom will be girls - could still be out of school by the MDG deadline in 2015. 

The good news is that important progress has been made in promoting girls’ education at the primary level. In the ten years since the UN Girls’ Education Initiative was launched, gender parity in primary schooling has been achieved in almost all countries. (The slide shows that the Gender Parity Index for primary education favours girls today in many parts of the world. The countries in green have achieved parity, and girls are significantly disadvantaged in the countries in pink.) You will note that the largest gender gaps at the primary level persist in West and Central Africa, and here, in South Asia.

However, the global Gender Parity Index masks important sub-national inequities.

At the secondary level, the Gender Parity Index shows that girls are lagging behind. Again, gender gaps are greatest in West and Central Africa and in South Asia (as shown in the slide). Interestingly, in Latin America and Caribbean and in parts of southern Africa and the Pacific, the gender gap is to the disadvantage of boys.

The constraints that are keeping these children out of school at primary, secondary and higher education levels globally are the same as the ones that lock children in Pakistan out of an education. The stubborn barriers to educating girls are both socio-cultural and economic in nature and include child domestic labour, early marriage, the prohibitive cost of schooling, and sexual harassment, violence and abuse in schools and while getting there.

Other challenges abound. They include the lack of gender sensitivity in school processes, such as textbooks, subject choices and teachers’ attitudes; treatment of gender issues as add-ons rather than mainstreaming gender in education; inadequate gender-related education responses in emergency situations; and the failure to recognize that gender equality leads to opportunities for both girls and boys.  In addition, some of these barriers are further exacerbated by shocks such as the global recession, natural disasters, security threats, and political uncertainty.

In order to serve as an additional push for girls’ education and to effectively tackle these interlocking constraints, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) was launched by the UN Secretary-General at the World Education Forum in 2000.

Conceived as a partnership of organizations committed to narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education, UNGEI envisions “a world where all girls and boys are empowered through quality education to realize their full potential and contribute to transforming societies where gender equality becomes a reality.”

At the global level, UNGEI is led by a Global Advisory Committee that is currently co-chaired by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE, a civil society organization). UNICEF serves as lead agency and supports the partnership at all levels.

Through its unique partnership model, UNGEI has pioneered a cohesive approach that leverages the comparative advantages of its partners to collaborate effectively on joint priorities, negotiate and advocate on gender and education with one voice, and pool resources and expertise to expand access to quality education for boys and girls alike.

Over the past decade, UNGEI has contributed to the attainment of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 on universal primary education and MDG 3 on women’s empowerment and gender equality. In 2000 there were over 100 million children out of school worldwide, two thirds of whom were girls. In the intervening decade, that number has decreased dramatically with girls making up a smaller proportion of the out of school population.

The network has matured during that period and now boasts over 40 national partnerships in five regions ranging from Africa and the Middle East through Asia and the Pacific. The form that the partnerships take at country level differs according to the specific context but includes those that work as an integral part of the UNICEF programme, those that are part of the national sector-wide approach, and those that are independent and benefit from donor support. Among the major activities planned in 2011 at global level will be a formative evaluation of UNGEI to examine the partnership’s added value that has supported progress towards achieving gender equality in and through education; a global study on sports and girls’ education; and additional publications and electronic resources to add to the body of knowledge on good practice in gender and education.

While there has been significant progress, much work remains to be done, as we recognize with the launch of PGEI. I want to take a moment to note that much of the groundwork for the formation of PGEI is the outcome of the effective participation of the Pakistan delegation at the UNGEI tenth anniversary conference, “Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality” held last May in Dakar, Senegal, including the dynamic membership of Pakistan in the drafting committee of the Dakar Declaration on Accelerating Girls’ Education and Gender Equality, the first global declaration on girls’ education.

In summary, let us never forget the complex dimensions of the challenge that confronts us around the world and here in Pakistan. Without strong collaboration between governments, donors, multilateral agencies including the UN system, civil society, academia, and the media, none of us individually will be able to do the right thing for children.

It is our hope that through the PGEI network – with its enhanced capability for information sharing, building trust among key stakeholders, policy advocacy and assistance to the government of Pakistan in its response to emergencies – each child in this country, girl and boy alike, will complete a high quality education.

As I close, I want to leave you with the story of ten year-old Saima, whose family was affected by the recent floods and lives in the UNICEF-supported camp in the Rahim Yar Khan district in the Punjab province.

Saima is the youngest of six children. Her father is hearing impaired, and she has three brothers.  Her brothers attended school in their village. But Saima was forced to stay at home and help her mother because her grandfather would not allow her to go to school.

Now, at the camp, Saima is going to school for the very first time. In her first two weeks at the camp, she learnt how to count and read the alphabet. She also began to write and memorize poems.

Saima said about her first time at school: [Quote] It’s my lifetime dream coming true. Please ask my mother to promise that she will let me continue my school when we go back home. [End quote]

This is why we come together here today – to honour a promise to Saima and all children in Pakistan.

I thank you very much for your collaboration and your kind attention.



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