by Evelyne Para SI UN Representative Paris
SI Representative Evelyne Para, attends the UNESCO International Conference 5 July 2019 Paris by the French G7 Presidency, in cooperation with UNESCO, with the theme: Innovating for girls’ and women’s empowerment through education’.
“In an introduction to the G7 International Conference Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, remarked: “Girls’ education is first and foremost a fundamental human right, but it’s also the most powerful force in our hands to ensure significant improvements in health, stimulate economic growth, achieve gender equality, unlock the innovation we need to build more resilient and sustainable societies. It’s a force for economic, social and political transformation. It has the power to create a more just, prosperous and inclusive world for us all. This is why we urgently need strengthened collective action for education”.
One of the most effective investments for development, benefiting individuals, society, and our collective future is a girls education – impacting on their own lives, those of their children, families, communities and countries. Gaining knowledge and skills to adapt to changes affecting societies – whether demographic, climatic or technological, the education of a girl or woman has the power to save lives; stimulating multiplier effects that reduce poverty, early marriage, maternal and infant mortality (a child whose mother has been educated has a 50% greater chance of living beyond the age of 5). The prospects for access to health, education, social and economic status and responsibilities will increase, whilst their education will leave them less vulnerable to poverty, diseases, mortality and violence.
Promoting empowerment of girls and women is essential to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including achievement of SDG 5 gender equality, and SDG 4 which aims “to ensure access for all to quality education, and to promote opportunities for lifelong learning“.
The stakes are twofold: girls’ and women’s education is both a fundamental human right, and it’s also an essential lever for sustainable development and peace and all speakers wished to share this message.
- Transformational thinking and actions are needed to ensure no one is left behind and that all girls and women can fulfil their rights to education.
- Innovations, new ways of working, expanded cooperation, and abandoning the status quo will accelerate progress down the long road towards gender equality in and through education.
With this in mind, UNESCO has launched a new campaign ‘Its education, our future’, which aims to accelerate efforts to educate girls and women to ensure equal rights and opportunities in education and empowerment, and to shape lives and futures, based on political and financial commitments.
Three thematic priorities must be developed:
- Better data to inform action:
High quality and regularly updated data are key ingredients for policy-making, planning and the delivery of strategic interventions to advance gender equality, in and through education. This data can help countries to identify and analyse gendered patterns and trends, and better plan and target resources accordingly to address gender inequities. Countries are therefore called on (and they can benefit from UNESCO’s financial and technical support) to ensure effective data collection and monitoring and evaluation systems in order to have SDG4 global indicators disaggregated by sex.
- Better legislation, policy and plans to advance rights:
In all countries, national legislation must be reviewed and improved in order to prohibit discriminatory practices and barriers to education such as child marriage, child labour, domestic work and early or unwanted pregnancies. Laws that condone early marriage or allow schools to expel pregnant girls are significant barriers to education and lifelong learning. In some contexts, good national laws exist, but they are not enforced through policy and regulatory frameworks, education sector plans and budget allocations.
- Better teaching and learning practices to empower:
It is important for each country to have more qualified teachers, better content and improved learning processes, for example focusing on the teaching of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), as well as safe, inclusive and healthy learning environments. In many parts of the world, school infrastructure is absent or fails to meet students ‘basic physical needs’. Lack of separate sanitation facilities and supplies are, for example, a major barrier for girls, especially during menstruation. In Africa, about 1 in 10 girls do not attend school every month for this reason…
Several interactive round tables enabled government officials from UN member countries and representatives of international NGOs to:
- highlight concrete and innovative initiatives and solutions to improve girls’ and women’s access to quality education and learning opportunities that empower and build knowledge and skills for life and decent work;
- provide space for new collaboration initiatives between countries and institutions to advance girls’ and women’s empowerment in and through education;
- galvanize collective action to deliver on the 2030 Agenda commitments for girls’ education, women’s empowerment and gender equality.
For example, an interesting testimony from UN Women shows how girls are encouraged in Kyrgyzstan to follow a career in STEM: with a coding caravan, more than 600 schoolgirls aged 10 to 18 learned programming basics, and how to create prototypes of mobile applications; work in a team; conduct marketing research; write business plans; produce videos and presentations; and use technology to tackle solve socio-economic problems of Kyrgyzstan. A small seed which will lead to empowerment of hundreds of rural girls pursuing a career in STEM . Girls are encouraged to reach even higher and take part next year in the annual Technovation Challenge, the world’s largest global tech entrepreneurship competition for girls worldwide with support from a network of the top talents in business, design, and technology in the world, known as TopTal
In one of the round tables, Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education and a member of the G7 Gender Advisory Council, underscored the urgent role of education in realising an equal, peaceful, stable and prosperous future for all. “Though complex to achieve, it’s simple as this: our future will stand or fall on the quality of our education systems and their ability to fulfil the potential of every individual”, she said. “Whether meeting with representatives of civil society or G7 Development Ministers, my message is the same: we need more teachers of every gender at every level. We need to focus on learning not only schooling and that girls can only access and continue an education if they are safe – whether from conflict, sexual violence, childhood marriage or harmful traditional practices”.
All round tables, discussed the worrying situation for countries in sub-Saharan African, where the school-age population is growing faster than elsewhere in the world, and where the share of out-of-school children of primary school age has grown from 41% in 2000 to 54% in 2017. In this region, we see schools closed, teachers absent and students’ learning on standby. In the presence of Ministers from Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, the G5 Sahel Alliance, international organisations and the World Bank, speakers emphasised that persistent gender inequality was a root cause of fragility and cycles of poverty, girls disproportionately affected because of sexual and gender-based violence. The ministers of education from Sahel countries and Senegal joined the discussions, and each gave stark accounts of the challenges in providing quality education, especially for girls. They shared common challenges such as not having an effective teacher work-force, persistent insecurity, high rates of early forced marriage and pregnancy as well as other harmful traditional practices. Ministers highlighted the especially difficult circumstances for girls living in rural areas without sanitary facilities in school to meet their basic needs.
At the end of this international Conference, Malala Yusufzai (Nobel Peace Prize) and French President Emmanuel Macron both took the stage to champion the ultimate power of education for achieving global transformation.
President Emmanuel Macron spoke of France’s support for the Global Partnership for Education and received raucous support from the audience when he said: “… what we owe to ourselves, what we owe to our youth and to our children, is that all the children of the world, girls and boys, are educated. And if there are obstacles on the way to school, we must bring them down. If we are told that it is the lack of transport, we must create them. If we are told that it is insecurity, we must fight against it. If we are told that it is the lack of means, we must bring them. If we are told that it is the lack of trained teachers, we must provide them “.
The main concrete commitments of the G7 countries have also been announced:
- Adoption of Initiative Priorité à l’égalité, which will be financially supported by Canada, European Union, France, Germany and the United Kingdom and will contribute to sustainable development through education plans that respond to gender needs and dynamics.
- A communiqué ministériel conjointof G7 Education and International Development Ministers with in-depth support for education in concrete actions to make equality a reality in “Fighting inequalities in developing countries through education promoting gender equality and quality technical and vocational education and training“.
- The French government will launch a women’s entrepreneurship fund with the African Development Bank at the G7 Leaders’ Summit in August 2019 at Biarritz.
- The creation of a special fund of 120 million euros housed to improve the status and rights of women around the world, especially in the field of education.
- A direct call from French President Emmanuel Macron for the G7 to double the funds for education in the Sahel, especially for girls.
- The first ever G7 / G5 Sahel Joint Communiqué which promoted the vital importance of a human capital-based approach and education as a cornerstone within this.
If I had to summarise this international Conference in one sentence, I would say: The clock is ticking, the status quo is over and it’s time to commit to Education.
If we do not meet SDG 4, we will not achieve any of the other global goals of the 2030 Agenda. The new forecasts point to the gloomy prospect of disappointment for an entire generation, even though such a failure is entirely preventable. The world can easily afford the modest investment in education that is needed to reach this feasible goal: “quality education for all“. This international Conference was a call to action for all countries to implement gender-sensitive legal frameworks. The quest for a world where gender equality is the rule must bring us all together.
An alarming fact: today girls are still the left behind in education Despite considerable progress in closing gender gaps in education between girls and boys.
132 million girls remain out of school, especially in fragile and conflict-affected States and in sub-Saharan Africa.
Too many girls and women are still facing barriers by gender-based violence, child labour, child marriages, early pregnancies, conflicts, restrictive social norms related to gender and traditional school practices that affect their rights and opportunities in education.
This year the children starting school are expected to complete their secondary education by 2030, however, according to forecasts published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, one in six children aged 6 to 17 will be excluded from education (the vast majority of them are girls), and only six in ten will complete. Without action we will not succeed.
Education systems often perpetuate rather than challenge gender stereotypes and inequalities, and consequently, millions of girls drop out of school before completing their education, or fail to learn the basics. Women represent two-thirds of the adult illiterate population, a proportion unchanged in the last two decades”.