15.03.2014 - ODG

Girl’s education is our ultimate renewable energy - The National (UAE), Al Bayan (UAE)

Article published on 15 March in The National (United Arab Emirates).

It has always surprised me how some people consider International Women’s Day as a day dedicated to women – as if the remaining 364 days where for men.

On the contrary, this Day is an opportunity for all men and women to raise awareness about what is our most important and untapped energy. Gender equality is not only a human right – it is also a development multiplier, and one of the most powerful transformational forces we have, to build peace and social inclusion.

Girl’s education is the key to unleash this energy. <a name="_Toc380486101">But Today girls are still more likely to miss out on primary education</a>; 31 million of them are currently out of school without any hope of ever making it into a classroom. And even if they did, it is not sure they would benefit from a quality education. Over 100 million young women living in low and lower middle income countries are unable to read a single sentence -- even if they have been to school. As a consequence, women still represent two thirds of illiterate adults in the world.

This is a vicious circle and a waste of talent and human ingenuity that no society can afford. No society can sustainably develop with only 50% of its human capital.

Parents do not keep their girls away from school willingly. Wherever I have travelled, I have seen nothing but an incredible desire for access to school and learning. Even in the poorest and most marginalized areas, even in times of crisis and conflict, families are ready to make great sacrifices and skip meals and defy the odds to send their kids to school, even when the classroom is the shade of a tree and the pen a stick to write with in the dust.

What they want is a quality education. They want qualified teachers and a secure environment where their children will not be harmed, harassed or raped. They ask for safe transportation when the school is far away. Their needs go well beyond the construction of buildings. The provision of quality education calls for new laws, new curricula, new teacher training and, ultimately, a new mobilization of Government at the highest level. We need to respond to these demands.

One key of success is to focus on girl’s secondary education. A lot of political attention has been recently dedicated to young children, and this is positive. But adolescence is a critical and sensitive time for girls, who face the greatest risk of dropping out. This is a turning point when girls also learn vital skills to get jobs and become active citizens. Keeping girls in school and ensuring they get the education they need and want is the goal of UNESCO’s Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education. Launched in 2011 -- the second phase of this ambitious undertaking will be presented in Dubai this month at the Global Education and Skills Forum.

Success is possible, when will is combined with resources and the right policies.

Over the last decade, Iraq and Turkey have shown that fast progress towards gender parity in secondary education is possible. New technologies have opened new opportunities to reach the marginalized and train teachers. Many countries have expressed a new commitment to focus on girls’ education, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, where we have just launched the Malala Fund for Girls Education, to decrease gender disparity in schools from 10% to 5% before 2016.

At the same time, we need to recognise that in far too many parts of the world, education is still considered as a low priority, and girls’ education even lower. Governments everywhere must understand that everyone gains when girls are educated. <a name="_Toc380486115">There are few more dramatic illustrations of the power of girls’ education than falling child mortality rates. Since 1990 improved education for girls of reproductive age has saved an estimated 2.1 million lives of children under 5. That is more than half the total of 4 million lives saved by reducing child mortality during the period. Economic growth accounted for less than 10% of the total. </a>Educated mothers ensure their children are vaccinated, and they are less likely to contract malaria and other diseases. Girls educational helps women make life choices, for themselves and their families. It helps them in engage fully in their societies. It is not only right for girls -- it is right for all of us, everyday of the year.


Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

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