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20.10.2015 -

Empowering Girls through Education - Girls' Rights Gazette

Article published in the 11-17 October issue.

The global goals that have just been adopted at the historic United Nations Summit pledge to transform our world by leaving no one behind.

This universal, rights-based agenda can only be realized if gender equality becomes the norm in every society. Such an ambition starts by tackling inequalities at the root and by investing in the most powerful transformational force that exists to empower girls and women -- a quality education.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 spells out this ambition, guided by the Incheon Declaration that was adopted at the World Education Forum in May 2015, co-convened by UNESCO with six UN partners. It holds the promise to ensure that all children pursue 12 years of quality, free and publicly funded education – never has the world signed up to such a comprehensive goal. 

Our starting point is the fact that over 60 million girls are out of school today and more than half of them are adolescents. Only 38 percent of countries have achieved gender parity in secondary education. More so than in the past 15 years, we have to bring down every obstacle that is depriving girls from learning -- family poverty, discriminatory laws, social prejudice, low expectations, and schools that simply aren't safe for girls.  The picture is worse in situations of emergency and crisis, where girls are the first targets of violence and extremism. But across the board, in every society, inequality prevails in different shades.

The principle must be zero tolerance for violence and discrimination. We estimate that 246 million girls and boys are harassed and abused in and around school every year. To raise awareness and counter this violation of human dignity, we are working with UN Women and other partners to develop a global guidance on school-related gender based violence that will be issued this fall. UNESCO’s Executive Board approved a resolution on this subject in April this year that is the first normative document of its kind in the United Nations system.

To overcome inequality and injustice, we need to widen the lens by acting on all factors that marginalize girls and hijack their educational journey. From school safety and gender sensitive teaching and curricula through to community awareness raising and advocacy, the gamut of interventions must span the social and political spectrum in order to succeed.

This is why we have joined forces with UN Women and UNFPA to launch a joint programme to empower adolescent girls and women through education, working on multiple fronts inside and outside the school. The same spirit guides the girls’ right to education programme just launched in some of most disadvantaged provinces in Pakistan, along with our EU-supported bridging learning gaps for youth in response to the Syria crisis.

We can put on a face on the 17 global goals that will guide the international community for the next 15 years -- this is the face of a young adolescent girl, in school, learning in a safe environment, not subjected to violence, not married off early and given everything she needs to aspire and follow her dreams. This is the face of the future all societies need.


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