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Girl's education: a lifeline to better future

The right to education, guaranteed by various international and regional human rights instruments1, is a fundamental human right to all, regardless of age, gender and other factors.

On 11 October 2013, the international community will mark the second anniversary of the International Day of the Girl Child. On this occasion, the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practicei, the CEDAW Committeeii and representatives of five regional human rights mechanismsiii, who gathered for the first time in Geneva on 1st October2, joined their voices to advocate on behalf of girls whose human right to education is being denied.

This year’s focus, “Innovating for Girls’ Education”, is an opportunity to take stock of the obstacles to girls’ education and innovative solutions to addressing them. It is an undisputed fact that education for girls is a strategic investment for development and a catalyst to social progress. The 2013 Report on the Millennium Development Goals reveals that developing countries have made impressive strides in expanding access to primary education. Despite a significant reduction in the number of school drop-outs – from 102 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2011 – gender disparity in enrolment at the primary and secondary levels  remains high and is even more marked at the higher levels, especially in certain regions with girls accounting for 55% of the out-of-school population3.

Barriers to the fuller participation of girls at all levels of education include the burden of care in the household, patriarchal norms that undervalue girls’ education, the threat of sexual violence in and out of school, early and forced marriages and adolescent pregnancies.

Other factors which impede on the right to primary education for girls include religious, political, cultural stereotypes or other ideological factors. The case of Malala Yousufzai, a 14 year old Pakistani school girl and education activist who was victim of an assassination attempt on 9 October 2012 is worth highlighting. Malala’s case alerted the world over the manner in which girls’ education still remains an enormous challenge. More importantly her courage and commitment in advocating for the right to education of the girl child has inspired millions around the world to echo her call for education for all children in general and girls in particular.

Increasing girls’ enrolment and attendance by facilitating their accessibility to all levels of education and their right to a place in school, free of discrimination, must be regarded as a universal obligation. Increasing accessibility may require: providing mandatory and free education at least at the primary level; building awareness among parents and the wider society of the benefits of educating girls; providing families with financial resources to offset incidental costs for education; instituting temporary special measures to ensure girls’ participation in areas of study in which females are under-represented; creating schools that provide sanitary facilities and safe environments where sexual violence and harassment are not tolerated including during transit to and from school.

Innovating to ensure gender equality to, within and through education requires reforms to improve the quality of education offered to girls at all levels. Innovative measures would  include: breaking down the sex-segregation of school curricula and facilitating girls engagement in non-traditional areas such as mathematics, science and technology and non-feminised vocational skill areas; empowering girls through transforming the mode of delivery from didactic to constructivist approaches that allow girls to become active and confident, assertive learners; eliminating gender stereotypes that reproduce patriarchal norms from curricula, textbooks and teaching materials; and, instituting mandatory courses in teacher training programmes that expose teachers to awareness of the gender regime operating in schools and ways in which their classroom behaviours transmit and reproduce traditional gender socialisation of girls and boys.

The international and regional mechanisms gathered at the event urge Members States, civil society organizations, the private sector and global policymakers to take swift action to eliminate barriers to girls’ education and, inter alia, institute the innovations identified above. The exclusion of girls from the education system carries too high a cost to girls themselves, their families and the wider society to be ignored. The time to act is now!

Notes:

1. Including inter alia, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women  at the international level; the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Protocol 1 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, at the regional level. The right is also recognized in the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All (EFA) Dakar Framework for Action. The EFA supplements or contributes to some MDGs, particularly, universal primary education and gender equality in education by the year 2015.

i. On the occasion of the Seminar with the regional human rights mechanisms on women’s rights

ii. See: http://www.who.int/topics/millennium_development_goals/gender/en/

iii. The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice is composed of five independent experts from all regions of the world: Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom) Chairperson-Rapporteur; Emna Aouij, Vice-Chairperson (Tunisia); Patricia Olamendi Torres (Mexico); Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia) and Eleonora Zielinska (Poland).

2. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

3. Advocate Soyata Maiga, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); Ms. Tracy Robinson, Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and Ms. Carlien Scheele, Chairperson of the Council of Europe Gender Equality Commission, Council of Europe.