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Girls get short shrift in world education system
By Marwaan Macan-Markar,
Inter Press Service
  MEXICO CITY, (IPS World Desk) 10 March - Progress in educating girls in Sub-Saharan Africa has been ''excruciatingly slow'' over the last 10 years, says an education expert from the region..
   ''We still have approximately 41 million children out of school, 56 percent of whom are girls,'' adds Dr Sheila Parvyn Wamahiu, an education consultant for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Africa.
  The same thing is happening in Latin America. In Guatemala, for instance, ''only 55 percent of girls attended primary school between 1990 and 1998,'' reveals Ann Birch of Casa Alianza, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that advocates child rights..

  What is more, the numbers are even lower among the region's indigenous communities. In Mexico, the school enrolment rates for indigenous peoples are 20 percent below the national average.

   These figures provide partial details to a more troubling picture about the current status of education of girls. Currently, according to the latest The State of the World's Children report by UNICEF, close to two-thirds of the estimated 130 million uneducated children are girls.
  With a little over a month left for the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, this issue has been getting a lot of publicity, with some child rights advocates insisting that such a report card cannot be ignored.
  Oxfam, a British-based NGO, sees the plight of uneducated girls as evidence that developing world governments have failed to live up to commitments made 10 years ago, during the World Conference on Education For All in Jomtien, Thailand.
  At that 1990 gathering, governments resolved to ensure that all children will be guaranteed the right to education by 2000. That resolution included a plan to give every child in the world ''a good primary education.''
  According to Oxfam, however, education enrolment rates have got worse rather than better since 1990, and in some developing countries the treatment of girls is ''tantamount to a system of apartheid.''.
 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, too, has gone on record recently about the need for governments to fulfil their obligations to guarantee the right to education for millions of children in the developing world.
  He referred to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child during the course of his appeal. Both documents emphatically spell out the right to education. Article 26 of the UDHR, also states that education should be free in at least the elementary stages.
  In an article he wrote recently, Annan captured the reality of the some 150 million children of primary school age who start school but drop out for various reasons. He described the reality of a Bangladeshi school girl, 13-year-old Shalina for whom there will be no university applications.
  ''For Shalina's parents, and millions of other parents like them, educating a daughter is a waste of time and money. They married off her older sister aged 15, having decided to use their scarce resources for their son's education at the expense of their daughters.''
  By contrast, a five-year-old European or North American child, he wrote, ''can expect to spend 17 years in formal education.''
   This scenario, say education experts, is the result of marginalisation, which consequently leads to a widening of the gender gap.
  In Ethiopia, for instance, fewer than one-tenth of girls are in school, contributing to that country having ''one of the largest gender gaps.''
  In addition, points out UNICEF's Wamahiu, girls who enroll in schools do not have it easy, either. In many Sub-Saharan African countries they are ''threatened with sexual harassment and abuse'' by male peers and, at times, ''unethical teachers.''
  Furthermore, ''girls who are the victims of unwanted sex have their school careers terminated by unsympathetic school policies on pregnant female students,'' she declares.
  In Latin America, says Birch, poverty has also left its mark on the learning capacity of poor students. ''Poor children, and that means girls, tend to drop out far more than those from well off backgrounds.''
  Oxfam expects little of this to change following the Dakar conference. Last month, in fact, the British NGO quit the organising committee in protest, declaring that the draft blueprint for the Dakar summit is ''woefully inadequate.''
  On its website, Oxfam states that the Dakar forum will ''not come up with the concrete plans and commitments necessary for resolving the education crisis.'' Says Kevin Watkins, Oxfam's senior policy advisor, what is required is a demonstration by governments for ''real change to get every child in school.''
  The International Consultative Forum on Education for All, however, feels more optimistic about the change that will follow next month's conference. The Forum's country reports, which have analysed the quality of basic education in close to 180 countries, are expected to serve as a way forward.
   ''The new facts and figures will, it is hoped, lead to the adoption of more effective and efficient education policies in countries around the world,'' the latest bulletin of the Forum declared.
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