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First meeting / Document 5
Summary of Status prepared for Working Group on EFA
Submitted by Mary Joy Pigozzi
United Nations Girls' Education Initiative Task Force

1. Introduction

Girls' education is a fundamental human right and an essential element of sustainable human development. The Jomtien Declaration (1990), the Amman Affirmation (1996) and Dakar Framework (2000) all stressed the importance of girls' education in achieving Education for All. Education as a right and girls' education as a development necessity are generally acknowledged, yet at the start of the 21st century almost two thirds of the more than 110 million children out of school are girls. The education goals will not be achieved unless affirmative action is taken in support of girls' education, and the international poverty reduction goals will not be reached without concerted effort to eliminate discrimination against women and girls and to achieve gender equality.

In an effort to build on the progress achieved through and to provide a substantive focus to UN Reform, the Senior Management Group (SMG), chaired by the Secretary General, agreed in May 1999, to launch a system-wide programme on girls' education in support of EFA. This Initiative is envisaged as an integral and essential element in the global effort to reduce poverty. It was decided to base it in UNDG with UNICEF taking the lead.

2. Description of the Initiative

The goal of the United Nations 10-Year Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI) is to mount a sustained campaign to improve the quality and availability of girls' education through a collaborative partnership of different entities within and outside of the UN system.

The overall objective of this programme is the elimination of gender discrimination and gender disparity in education systems (defined broadly to include policy and practice in conventional and nonformal approaches to education involving a wide range of partners) through action at national, district, and community levels. While this Initiative will emphasise primary education and its equivalents, and be closely tied to the global EFA movement and education goals of other world conferences, it also supports the transition to secondary education, secondary education itself, and other aspects of education that facilitate girls' learning. The emphasis on gender issues and systemic approaches are consistent with the development of quality education systems for all children.

The overall goal and strategy are translated into five strategic objectives designed to assist countries in meeting their Education for All goals and targets, as well as the education goals of other UN international conferences. The objectives call for:

  • building political and resource commitments,

  • ending the gender gap,

  • ending gender bias and discrimination within education systems,

  • helping girls' education in crisis, conflict and post-conflict situations, and

  • eliminating ingrained gender bias that limits the demand for girls' education.
  • The Initiative calls for strategic action on girls' education in a collaborative and concerted effort that builds on known mechanisms and established practices. Specific actions will bring to bear different organisational strengths and experiences through a variety of partnerships and operational forms. Programme flexibility will allow for the possibility to seize opportunities for progress.

    The Initiative is open to all agencies and organisations, including NGOs, that work in the area of girls' education. Participation in the Initiative is based on willingness, and ability to contribute to and/or build on existing activities.

    3. Accomplishments

    The UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan launched the UNGEI at the opening of the World Education Forum (WEF) in Dakar, Senegal on 26 April 2000. His speech, which focussed very heavily on girls' education, was well received and set the stage for an unprecedented emphasis on girls' education in an international education forum.

    Under the DGO and with UNICEF serving as the lead, a multi-entity Task Force was set up to "manage" the Initiative. Any interested UN partner was invited to participate starting with the UNDG, UNESCO, and the World Bank. This group has agreed upon a work plan for the year, which is currently being implemented.

    The Task Force has developed a Concept Paper and an accompanying Action Plan. The Concept Paper was fully endorsed by the SMG in September 1999, by the ACC subsidiary machinery in February 2000, and later by ECOSOC. As a result, the Initiative is now endorsed by the entire UN system, including the World Bank, and will be implemented through collaborative and concerted efforts that build on known mechanisms and established practices.

    The Concept Paper outlines the rationale, objectives and strategy for a common UN system approach to enhance the system's efforts towards improving the quality and availability of girls' education in developing countries. The Girls' Education Initiative is not intended to lead to the introduction of new elaborate mechanisms or instruments but rather aims to encourage and facilitate strategic action on girls' education.

    The UNGEI Task Force subsequently developed an overall Action Plan. The Action Plan identifies five strategic objectives (see Description of the Initiative) which cover the main areas where past interventions have shown to be successful in terms of girls' education and the long-term integration of girls and women into society as equals with their male counterparts.

    Starting with the Dakar WEF, the Task Force has completed the following major tasks:

  • Strategy Session on Girls' Education at the WEF, Dakar, April 2000

  • Special Session on Girls' Education at the Beijing +5 NGO Conference, June 2000

  • Country identification. While countries must identify themselves, the UN and its partners can play a catalytic role.

  • A massive mapping exercise of existing UN-supported activities by country has been completed.

  • Participation criteria have been articulated.
  • Support to UN reform processes. In order to integrate girls' education as substantive content within CCA and UNDAF, special efforts have been undertaken with the Turin Staff Development Centre to include the topic in CCA/UNDAF facilitator training.

  • Support to countries. A few countries have been aggressive in self-identification.

  • Egypt is the first to have officially launched the Initiative - a national workshop was held by the Minister of Education on 24 October.

  • Guidelines for the UN system to operationalise the Initiative at the country level are being finalised.
  • Partnership building. The UNGEI is a partnership that is committed to building and strengthening partnerships.

  • It links to ongoing activities such as UNSIA and HIPC.

  • Meetings have been held with multilateral partners not based in the US (UNESCO, WHO, ILO, UNAIDS, and UNHCR).
  • Millennium Assembly. Two key actions were part of this important event.

  • The Task Force provided input into the SG's Millennium Assembly Report, ensuring education, especially girls' education, had a prominent place.

  • UNICEF organised a Forum on Girls' Education for the First Spouses.
  • Communication strategy. It has been decided that a two-prong strategy is necessary - external and within the UN system. This has yet to be developed. The UN system part was identified as the highest priority.

  • Interagency consultation on education in emergencies. The UNGEI and its fourth objective had a key place in this November 2000 meeting.

    4. Next Steps

    The participating entities are in the process of addressing the following:

  • partner workplans in support of UNGEI

  • need for funding indicators of progress/success

  • NGOs and their roles in girls' education

  • roles of bilaterals and other partners

  • inclusion of other countries
  • 5. How the High Level Group can support UNGEI

    The following is requested of the High Level Group:

  • Advocacy for girls' education as essential to achieving EFA

  • Funding for training, materials, and country support

  • Attention to mainstreaming gender issues