08.10.2012 -

Irina Bokova: gender disparities are most blatant during the transition from primary to secondary

Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Article by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, published in Plan International's newspaper, on the occasion of the European Week of Action for Girls, which takes place from 8-12 October 2012. The European Week of Action for Girls is organised by Plan EU Office under the patronage of the President of the European Parliament and in partnership with the United Nations in Brussels.

Education for girls and women is basic human right and a breakthrough strategy for sustainable development. This is why UNESCO is promoting education and gender equality through formal schooling as well as alternative, non-formal learning opportunities. As the lead agency of the Education for All (EFA) movement, UNESCO has placed gender equality at the heart of all its work.

The stakes are high. Girls and women have far fewer opportunities to access and complete education than their male counterparts. This is a cause and also a result of multiple, often overlapping reasons – including poverty, geographical isolation, early marriages and pregnancies, gender-based violence and other discriminatory socio-cultural practices and attitudes. The progress and retention of girls in school is affected also by negative gender stereotypes and discrimination in education laws, policies, learning content, and teaching practices along with unsuitable and unsafe learning environments and school-related gender-based violence.

UNESCO acts at multiple levels to tackle these challenges. Our position is that gender equality is a basic human right to, within, and through education -- a right to education, in terms of equal access to learning opportunities, a right within education, in terms of gender-sensitive content, teaching practices, environment and treatment, and a right through education, in terms of learning outcomes, life and work opportunities.

Advocacy is our first task, and this draws on a unique evidence base – including the flagship Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which contains extensive gender analysis and new statistical tools, and also the newly launched World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education.

On this basis, UNESCO seeks to integrate provisions for gender equality in national education legal and policy frameworks, plans and strategies. We collaborate with governments to train education policy-makers, planners, managers and teachers to better accommodate and educate girls through gender-sensitive contents and quality teaching and learning approaches.

Beyond formal schooling, UNESCO focuses on creating learning opportunities for girls and women who have never enrolled or have dropped out of school -- through literacy, vocational courses or informal learning and through collaboration with civil society and the private sector.

In 2011, UNESCO launched a Global Partnership for Girls and Women’s Education to sharpen its action. We are partnering here with the private sector, including Procter and Gamble, the Packard Foundation, GEMS Education, and the Barefoot College – to take forward innovative projects to promote girls’ secondary education and women’s literacy. We are working with the Packard Foundation, for instance, in remote rural districts of Ethiopia and Tanzania to lower drop-out rates during the transitional period between the ages of 13 and 16 -- when girls pass from primary to secondary education and the risk of dropping out is higher.

UNESCO is active also at the global level to define the post-2015 development and education agendas, where gender equality must remain a priority. UNESCO has been deeply involved in the UN Secretary-General’s new Education First initiative, acting as the Executive-Secretary of the initiative’s High-Level Steering Committee. The initiative will address persistent challenges standing before quality and inclusive education.

Gender disparities are most blatant during the transition from primary to secondary education and in the gender ratio among illiterate adults. We must target both points to reach those left behind while maintaining gains achieved at other levels of education. To succeed, we need to act quickly, with focus and across the board. Most of all, we need to act together -- to support governments, societies and families in making education a reality for all girls and women.

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