Today at a major event at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, a group of global leaders launched a new UNESCO Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education, called “Better Life, Better Future”. The initiative was launched by UNESCO head Irina Bokova, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In her address to the event Irina Bokova called the initiative ‘a global conscience for gender equality’. The flyer about the initiative points out that not only is education for all a right, which far too many girls and women are currently denied, in addition ‘newly literate women have a highly positive impact on all development indicators, from health to wealth. Women’s literacy beneﬁts not only women themselves, but also their children and the wider community.’
RESULTS has been calling for more attention to the issue of girls and women missing out on education – our May grassroots action addressed precisely this issue and asked for the UK Government to push for more international action to ensure that all children complete their education – at present large numbers of girls drop out before finishing primary school, or fail to make the transition to secondary education – and that education systems are functioning in a way that enables all students regardless of their gender to achieve their potential. During her opening speech to the event today, Irina Bokova thanked the governments of Italy and Japan, as well of course as Secretary Clinton, but the UK was not mentioned despite Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP’s pledge to put women and girls ‘at the front and centre’ of UK development aid.
Hillary Clinton’s address to the event contained some very interesting messaging and announcements. There was a clear push towards addressing the issue of female education holistically, looking beyond whether girls are physically in the classroom and assessing whether they are actually able to access quality learning. RESULTS’ May action pointed out that ‘current international efforts on education are targeted towards increased enrolment, and often ignore disadvantages faced by girls who are in the classroom, who drop out or achieve little’, so this is excellent progress. Mrs Clinton announced a major new research project, which will draw on the expertise at UNESCO on educational data (for example the annual Education for All Global Monitoring Report) to develop a much deeper understanding of education disparities and what is keeping girls and women from learning to read, write and do maths at the levels they need.
It was heartening to see so many international heavyweights on one platform focusing on the difficult questions in girls’ education. As well as the three presenters previously mentioned, the event was addressed by the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Mali, Sheikh Hasina and Cisse Mariam Kaidama Sidibe. Bangladesh in particular has made huge strides in education for girls over recent years, with both enrolment and pass rates in the Secondary School Certificate for girls soaring since 1991.
The establishment of a high-level panel on Girls’ and Women’s Education for Empowerment and Gender Equality opens up a possibility that this issue may start to get the attention it deserves internationally. Wouldn’t it be great if UK Prime Minister David Cameron MP were to join and commit more of the UK’s aid to addressing this vital issue? If you are a RESULTS volunteer and you haven’t yet taken the May action, why not include this request in the letter to your MP?