15.03.2012 - ODG

Women’s and Girls’ Education and Literacy Remain a Global Challenge, says UNESCO Director-General

©UNESCO/George Papagiannis - UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova giving the keynote address at a joint United Nations Foundation and Women’s Foreign Policy Group luncheon marking International Women’s Day, Washington, 15 March 2012.

Washington -- Women’s and girls’ education and literacy were the focus of comments made in Washington, DC, when Director-General Irina Bokova gave the keynote address at a joint United Nations Foundation and Women’s Foreign Policy Group luncheon marking International Women’s Day on Wednesday. The Director-General also used the occasion to draw from the recently released World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education to drive home the daunting challenges that remain to be overcome. “Less than 40 percent of countries provide girls and boys with equal access to education,” she said, adding, “in Sub-Saharan Africa almost 12 million girls may never enroll in school, and yet a child born to a mother who can read, is 50 percent more likely to survive pass the age of five.”

UNESCO is the lead UN agency on achieving the Millennium Development Goal of Education for All.  The Director-General said that throughout the world UNESCO is working to improve access to, and the quality of education.  “In Afghanistan, we are reaching out to 600,000 learners across 18 provinces with women and girls as a priority.”  UNESCO’s efforts are also benefiting South Sudan, where 88 percent of the women are illiterate and the organization is helping the new government establish its first education strategy. 

UNESCO partnerships with American companies and foundations are particularly benefiting women and girls in Africa.  “We need new forms of soft power that draw together the creativity of civil society and the private sector with public organizations,” Mme. Bokova said.  In Senegal, UNESCO is working with Procter and Gamble, focusing on girls’ and women’s literacy, reaching out to 40,000 young women.  In Ethiopia and Tanzania, UNESCO and the Packard Foundation have partnered to reduce dropout rates in secondary schools.  With Nokia, UNESCO uses mobile technologies to enhance learning. 

While pointing out that gender equality is not only a human right, the Director-General observed that real progress can only be realized with women and girls as full partners.  “Leave out women and girls and you exclude 50 percent of your brain power, 50 percent of your creative genius, and 50 percent of your economic drivers.”

Director-General Bokova was in Washington at the start of a 10 day mission to the United States raising awareness about why UNESCO matters to Americans and why Americans matter to UNESCO.

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