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ECOSOC High Level Segment on Africa

Note for the record
ECOSOC High Level Segment on Africa:
Girls' Education Panel
1 June 2001

Panellists:

  • Ms. Carol Bellamy, Executive Director, UNICEF

  • Ms. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA

  • Mr. Jean-Jacques Graisse, Assistant Executive Director, WFP

  • Mr. Felix Mbayu, First Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the United Nations

  • Dr. Eddah Gachukia, former Executive Director, Forum for African Women Educationalists

Twenty-five countries were represented at the panel discussion along with representatives from a range of UN and non-governmental organisations.

Two key themes underpinned the entire panel. Both the panellists and the participants underscored the that:

  • girls' education is a precondition for sustainable development, particularly with regard to fighting poverty and transforming societies through women's empowerment.
  • ensuring girls obtain a quality education is a matter of prime urgency.

The following were the major points:

  • Girls' education is essential because it is a right and because it is essential for human, social and economic development. The time is long past to discuss the need for, or the value of, girls' education. What is essential is to move ahead with implementation.
  • Girls' education is not just about access. It is about access to quality education--this is part of the right to an education.
  • Women have always been vectors of change, yet they have not been adequately empowered for this task in the past. This must change and, with equality, there is a need for both men and women to carry the banner for change.
  • The world has the technical responses to quality education for all girls. We know what the barriers are, and we know how to overcome them. They are manifest in several different ways including through policy, family, infrastructure, community, and education systems. Usually a "package" of responses is necessary because it is seldom that there is only one obstacle to the education of girls.
  • Culture is often inaccurately given as the reason for resistance to girls' education. In reality, one needs to look for what customs are designed to achieve and to ensure that these needs are met in ways that (1) recognise the rights of women and girls and (2) do not reinforce male domination.
  • Africa and the world have good examples of what works. Approaches range from awareness raising, to bursaries, to food supplements, to materials, to quality improvements, to peer support, to innovative approaches to providing access, as a few examples.
  • A united and strategic partnership for girls' education already exists. It needs to be supported and strengthened.

The following were identified as critical "next steps":

  • Getting political commitments and then "just doing it"
  • Understanding the importance of scaling up
  • Ensuring the use of a gender perspective through all development work
  • Promoting a redefinition of the concept of partnership
  • Continuing to enrich the existing knowledge base

The major remaining obstacles identified are:

  • Insufficient resources to girls' education
  • A real commitment to gender equality
  • Mechanisms for accelerating progress
  • The possibility of the digital divide becoming the gender divide as well

MJP 8 June 01