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Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women discusses girls' and women's right to education

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination  
Against Women 

7 July 2014

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning held a half-day general discussion on girls’ and women’s right to education, in view of receiving inputs and contributions for its draft General Recommendation on the issue.

In her opening remarks, Violeta Neubauer, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said that different components of girls’ and women’s right to education had been recurrent issues of concern in the dialogue with States parties for the past 30 years.  The lack of comprehensive coverage of this right underscored the need for this General Recommendation which would be instrumental in providing guidance to States parties as to the implementation of their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to education of women and girls under article 10 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

In an opening statement, Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that despite the progress made in education for girls, the continuing imbalance of power between the sexes in the public domain underscored the fact that education had not significantly addressed the strategic needs of women as a group, partly due to entrenched patriarchal systems and harmful gender stereotypes.  The primary concern must now be to advance the right to education, and continue the drive to enable all girls to attend school; currently, 35 million girls did not.  The education sector should embed human rights in all its processes and personnel and girls should be learning personal and leadership skills that promoted their effective participation in public life.
 
Abdulaziz Aluzainin, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Liaison Office in Geneva, expressed hope that the general discussion would contribute to the elaboration of specific and concrete recommendations based on lessons learned with a view to address systemic and persistent challenges that hampered efforts promoting girls’ and women’s right to education through a human rights-based approach.
 
Marie-Pierre Poirier, Regional Director, United Nations Children’s Fund Regional Office for CEE/CIS, said that more than half of the 57 million children of primary school age who were not in school were girls.  The world had seen remarkable progress in achieving gender parity in primary education in the last decade, and the discussions of the post-2015 development agenda provided a unique opportunity to secure commitment towards gender equality in education.

Barbara Bailey, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s Working Group on girls’ and women’s right to education, said that the interpretation of provisions under Article 10 of the Convention was very narrow and that States’ periodic reports were totally silent on ways in which the gender regime of schools, marked by entrenched patriarchal ideologies, practices and structures, shaped the daily experience of girls in school, exposing them to an environment which could be physically, emotionally and sexually abusive.   
 
Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, recalled international and regional frameworks of girls’ and women’s right to education, including relevant jurisprudence, and said that the proposed General Recommendation should urge States to incorporate their international obligations into their domestic legal order, especially by developing national legislation on girls’ and women’s right to education. 
 
Vernor Munoz, Plan International Education Advisor, said that the role of education and the process of socialization must be revised, including the representation of roles of women and men in the school books, and the insistence of memorization and obedience which were seen as key qualities.  A complete transformation of society was needed to eliminate stereotypes and negative practices and so facilitate the development of positive educational policies and practices.
 
Hannah Godefa, United Nations Children’s Fund National Ambassador to Ethiopia, said that there was a need to move beyond getting girls into school to keeping them in school, making sure they moved from one grade to the next and that at every step of the way they were actually learning.  Getting girls to school was only half the battle; it remained to address the overlapping disparities and cumulative effects that poverty and location placed on girls; put an end to violence in school, around schools, in communities; and tackle sexual abuse in schools.
 
Maki Katsuno-Hayashikawa, Chief of the Section of Learning and Teachers, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said that laws and policies to improve access to education to girls were not sufficient to ensure their full realization of the right to education.  The transformational impact of education especially that of girls and women must be recognized and addressed in other frameworks in order to ensure a coordinated and holistic approach to promoting girls’ and women’s right to education. 
 
Mariam Khalique, Malala’s teacher from Pakistan, said that in Swat valley, where she lived, there were 1,014 schools for boys and 603 schools for girls, even if women represented the larger part of the population.  Other barriers in girls’ access to schools were poverty, child labour, early child marriages, social norms and traditions and unavailability of the basic facilities.  Education was not a preparation for life; education was life and it should not be taken away from women and girls.
 
Mohamed Y. Mattar, Executive Director of the Protection Project, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, provided his interpretation of Article 10 of the Convention and said it contained five core principles, including the elimination of all forms of discrimination to ensure that women and girls received the same quality and type of education and had the same potential to benefit from such education as boys.  The General Recommendation must address those five principles because that was what the text of the Convention required.
 
Angela Mechiorre, Right to Education Project Advisor, said that progress was there that but should not justify complacency and should not hide the remaining risks and denials of rights; they must ask why the individual gains achieved by women through education had not yet been transformed into a whole system of wider gains in the political, economic and social sectors.  The right of girls and women through education must be defended from “invisible jeopardies.”

States speaking in the discussion were Qatar, France, Slovenia, Colombia, Australia, Thailand, Malta, Brazil and Sierra Leone.  The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS also took the floor.
 
Non-governmental organizations speaking were Human Rights Watch, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Plan International, International Disability Alliance, Coalition HRE2020, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Autistic Minority International, L’Organization internationale poir le droit à l’éducation et la liberté d’enseignement, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, Centre for Reproductive Rights, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, European Roma Rights Centre, Global Network for Rights and Development, and the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence.

Statements and documentation relating to today’s discussion are available on the Committee’s dedicated webpage.

The Committee will next meet in public at 4 p.m. this afternoon, when it will hold an informal public meeting with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions on the reports of Georgia, Lithuania, Swaziland and the Central African Republic, which the Committee will review this week. 

Welcome by the Chairperson


VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, said that the idea of elaborating a General Recommendation on girls’ and women’s right to education was endorsed in July 2012, and the Concept Note was adopted in February 2014.  The responses of the stakeholders gathered during the consultations demonstrated that the enthusiasm for this theme was also shared outside the Committee.  Over the more than 30 years of the history of the Committee, the different components of girls’ and women’s right to education had been recurrent issues of concern in the dialogue with States parties and the concluding observations.  The lack of comprehensive coverage of girls’ and women’s right to education underscored the need for this General Recommendation, which would be instrumental in providing guidance to States parties as to the implementation of their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to education of women and girls under article 10 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Opening Statements

 
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this was the first stage in the process of elaborating a General Recommendation by the Committee.  In recent decades, the international community had largely achieved consensus about the importance of an available, accessible, acceptable and quality education as the route to women’s empowerment, as well as on the need to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of education.  Regardless of the improvement in reducing gender disparity in schools, there were still pockets of shocking inequalities in a number of States and regions.  The continuing imbalance of power between the sexes in the public domain underscored the fact that education had not significantly addressed the strategic needs of women as a group, partly due to entrenched patriarchal systems and harmful gender stereotypes.  The primary concern must now be to advance the right to education, and continue the drive to enable all girls to attend school; currently, 35 million girls did not.  An effective response to those challenges must build on a human rights approach, engaging all stakeholders in the education process.  It was essential to devise an approach whereby a concept of the right to education embraced the rights within education and the rights through education; rights within education meant that the education sector should embed human rights in all its processes and personnel.  Rights through education for girls should include learning personal and leadership skills that promoted their effective participation in public life.
 
ABDULAZIZ ALUZAININ, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Liaison Office in Geneva, said that gender equality was one of its two global priorities for the period 2014-2021; gender equality in education was a basic human rights and a precondition for the realization of all other human rights.  Education empowered girls and women and unlocked other rights.  Its denial led to compounded denials of other human rights and the perpetuation of poverty.  It was  hoped that this general discussion would contribute to the elaboration of specific and concrete recommendations based on lessons learned with a view to address systemic and persistent challenges that hampered efforts promoting girls’ and women’s right to education through a human rights-based approach.  Given persistent gender inequalities in all aspects of education, the 2015 Education for All Goals and the Millennium Development Goal three would not be achieved, and unless the girls’ and women’s right to education was fulfilled, the newly proposed post-2015 education goal and its targets would not be achieved as well.
 
MARIE-PIERRE POIRIER, Regional Director, United Nations Children’s Fund Regional Office for CEE/CIS, said that more than half of the 57 million children of primary school age who were not in school were girls.  The most significant barriers that impeded access to primary and secondary education in both rural and urban areas included gender blind curricula and teaching practices, gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices, inadequate and unsafe environments, and an education system that did not reach the most vulnerable and at risk children.  Early marriage and teen pregnancies also represented significant barriers preventing girls from completing primary school and transitioning to secondary education, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  Keeping girls in school required that parents, community members, educators, policy makers and partners addressed larger contextual issues.  In the last decade, the world had seen remarkable progress in achieving gender parity in primary education, and the discussions of the post-2015 development agenda provided a unique opportunity to secure commitment towards gender equality in education.
 
Introduction of the General Recommendation on Girls’ and Women’s Right to Education

BARBARA BAILEY, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s Working Group on girls’ and women’s right to education, said that the interpretation of provisions under Article 10 of the Convention was very narrow, and the information provided in States parties’ reports focused primarily on the right to education; they were totally silent on ways in which the gender regime of schools, marked by entrenched patriarchal ideologies, practices and structures, shaped the daily experience of girls in school, exposing them to an environment which could be physically, emotionally and sexually abusive.  A case in point was gender-based violence that occurred in schools, a global phenomenon which remained unreported.  Schools could be violent spaces and the extent to which schooling was a major contributor to the construction of hegemonic masculinities and submissive femininities, and a site where a culture of violence was reproduced, varied.  The transformative paradigm where education was viewed as the means though which the axis of power between the sexes could be shifted to achieve more equitable outcomes for females beyond school; this transformation was not as seamless as proposed.  It was true that access to education for girls achieved benefits in reducing fertility, infant and maternal mortality and equipped women to better care for children, but it had been less successful in shifting their subordinate position in both the private and public spheres and women’s strategic need for empowerment had not been addressed in any substantial way through the education process.  States must give greater attention to all dimensions of schooling, which must produce girls who were confident, self-assured and equipped to be independent life-long learners. 
 
Keynote Speakers

KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, in his address spoke about international and regional frameworks of girls’ and women’s right to education, including relevant jurisprudence, and said that the right to education was an internationally recognized right and everyone was entitled to it.  The proposed General Recommendation should urge States to incorporate their international obligations into their domestic legal order, especially by developing national legislation on girls’ and women’s right to education.  Recognition, enjoyment and exercise of the right to education were key concepts and it was the responsibility of Governments to develop and implement education policies and plans aimed at enabling all the women and girls who remained deprived of education to fulfil their right to quality education on an equitable basis.  The Committee had already specified that temporary special measures were necessary not only to prohibit discrimination, but as a central part of a strategy to achieve substantive de facto equality between women and men.  Governments must recognize the key importance of an adequate legal framework on equality in education and develop a strong regulatory framework for public and private education systems.  Further, Governments must ensure that literacy programmes were in place and that they were linked to skill development so as to ensure that literacy programmes became transformative.  Finally, concerning the accountability of Governments, the General Recommendation should focus on an effective implementation strategy, monitoring mechanisms and accountability measures which were vital in addressing the gap between commitments and reality in the implementation of the right to education.
 
VERNOR MUNOZ, Plan International Education Advisor, said that “Because I am A Girl” campaign was one of the most important global campaigns that sought to combat poverty and assist girls to access education and transform their lives.  The obstacles that girls and women faced were also due to lack of relevance in the education content and it was important to stress that school access in itself did not represent quality education; quality in education should be understood as excellence and not just obtaining qualifications and passing tests.  The role of education and the process of socialization must be revised, including the representation of roles of women and men in the school books, and the insistence of memorization and obedience which were seen as key qualities.  A complete transformation of society was needed to eliminate stereotypes and negative practices and so facilitate the development of positive educational policies and practices.
 
HANNAH GODEFA, United Nations Children’s Fund National Ambassador to Ethiopia, said that there was a need to move beyond getting girls into school to keeping them in school, making sure they moved from one grade to the next and that at every step of the way they were actually learning.  Getting girls to school was only half the battle; the battle for education for girls was not only about achieving gender parity in schools, but about addressing the overlapping disparities and cumulative effects that poverty and location placed on girls; the chances for education diminished greatly for girls from poor families living in rural or conflict-affected areas.  It was about putting an end to violence, in school, around schools, in communities, because violence against girls perpetuated gender inequalities and had implications for girls staying in school and learning.  Further, recognizing and tackling sexual abuse in schools must happen, together with understanding the fears of parents and helping them to protect their daughters.  Investment was needed in secondary education and the funding must increase to strengthen systems and target excluded girls.
 
MAKI KATSUNO-HAYASHIKAWA, Chief, Section of Learning and Teachers, Division for Teaching, Learning and Content, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said that it was fair to say that the quantitative progress in access to education had been made possible by the enhancement of both legal and policy environments, especially in support of girls’ and women’s education both at the international and national levels.  Internationally, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women remained the most important legal framework promoting girls’ and women’s right to education.  Many of today’s existing strategies and sector plans to expand access to education for girls and women were informed by the five core principles of the right to education and gender equality, namely non-discrimination and lifelong learning; that education was available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable; that the right to education was transformational and supported broader gender equality objectives; and that girls’ and women’s right to education should facilitate the enjoyment of other socio-cultural, economic and political rights.  However, laws and policies to improve access to education to girls were not sufficient to ensure their full realization of the right to education.  A multi-disciplinary comprehensive approach was critical to promoting girls’ and women’s right to education.  The transformational impact of education, especially for girls and women, must be recognized and addressed also in legal and policy frameworks of other development sectors such as health, labour, or justice in order to ensure a coordinated and holistic approach to promoting girls’ and women’s right to education. 
 
MARIAM KHALIQUE, Malala’s teacher from Pakistan, said that in Swat valley, where she lived, there were 1,014 schools for boys and 603 schools for girls, even if women represented the larger part of the population.  Parents did not like co-education and girls had to stay home if there were no girls’ schools in the neighbourhood.  In the developed world it was unacceptable and unlawful if a child stayed home and in many developing countries it was vice versa.  In 2009, girls used to hide their books under their shawls to pretend they were not school students.  The Taliban leaders used to announce on their FM radio the names of girls who had quit school after listening to sermons against girls’ education and publicly appreciated parents and congratulated girls for quitting western education.  Other barriers in girls’ access to schools were poverty, child labour, early child marriages, social norms and traditions and unavailability of the basic facilities.  Education was not a preparation for life; education was life and it should not be taken away from women and girls.
 
MOHAMED Y. MATTAR, Executive Director of the Protection Project, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, provided his interpretation of Article 10 of the Convention and said it contained five core principles.  Those were the elimination of all forms of discrimination to ensure that women and girls received the same quality and type of education and had the same potential to benefit from such education as boys.  Education was not limited to primary and secondary education, but must include all levels of education from pre-school through to tertiary level in academic as well as technical-vocational fields, sports and physical education and continuing education.  Third, education must be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable to women and girls.  Primary measures, such as the elimination of stereotypical concepts of the roles of men and women in society, must be supported with complementary measures to enhance the rights of women and girls to education and to make free choices in fields of study and carriers.  Finally, promoting the right of women and girls to education facilitated the enjoyment of rights in their personal and family life as well as in their political and public life.  The implementation of article 10 required an effective and adequate application of all other articles of the Convention.  Any General Recommendations must address those five principles because that was what the text of the Convention required.
 
ANGELA MECHIORRE, Right to Education Project Advisor, said that the right to education was one of the most detailed human rights, a right that had already been acutely interpreted and adjudicated.  There were several ways to consolidate education as a multiplier of other human rights so that girls and women could enjoy all of them fully and equally.  It was only through education that one could access and enjoy other human rights, particularly those linked to personal development, active participation in public life, and employment.  It was by means of violations, denials or distortions of the right to education that discrimination, exclusion and disempowerment persisted around the world today.  Much had been achieved for girls and women, but effective action was lagging behind rhetoric.  The gap between education goals and rights had translated over time into a gap between achievements and the effective enjoyment of rights through education.  Progress was there but should not justify complacency and should not hide the remaining risks and denials of rights; they must ask why the individual gains achieved by women through education had not yet been transformed into a whole system of wider gains in the political, economic and social sectors.  The right of girls and women through education must be defended from “invisible jeopardies” such as homologation with men and their power culture; double or triple burden of responsibilities towards work, family and society; or embedded fears of expressing innovative and different views.
 
Oral Statements by Stakeholders

Qatar
said that there were still many obstacles to overcome to implement the right to education, including poverty and lack of security.  First and foremost national measures were needed, including enacting national legislation, developing curriculum to respond to the needs of girls and women, and adopting educational strategies to achieve gender equality in education.
 
France said that gender-based violence in schools was one of the greatest obstacles to access of girls to education and stressed that all forms of violence in school were often unseen and not addressed.  Equality was not just about numbers, but about the same treatment for everyone and same chance to succeed.
 
Slovenia praised the timing of the discussion on the right to education, particularly in the light of attacks on schools, including by Boko Haram.  The Committee should consider the United Nations Declaration on human rights education and training in their drafting of the General Recommendation.
 
Colombia spoke about national measures adopted to guarantee the right to education for girls and women, including the development of guidelines for education and gender equality, and combating school violence.  Drop-out rates were on the decrease thanks to the measures taken, and measures were in place to ensure the greater representation of women in under-represented areas of study. 
 
Australia reiterated its commitment to the implementation of Article 10 of the Convention and the elimination of discrimination against women in education.  The adoption of the General Recommendation would provide valuable guidance to States in the interpretation of their international obligations.
 
Thailand stressed the need to allocate national budgets to ensure access to education for women and girls, including for those with disabilities.  It must not be forgotten that the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women did not confer upon women equal right to education; its right could only be delivered with true commitment and real actions from States parties.
 
Malta said it would introduce co-education in all State colleges and had adopted a plan to reduce the school drop-out rates.  The Government was supporting pregnant teenage students and young mothers to stay in school or continue schooling through other means.
 
Brazil said Brazil was guided by urgency to promote and ensure universal access to education, in line with its international commitments and its national social and economic development strategies.  Gender equality in education was a priority for Brazil, which promoted the Second National Plan for Women’s Policies containing several education-related goals.
 
Sierra Leone stressed the need for specific action plans for countries which would form the basis for monitoring, and the use of role models, for example educated women, to encourage communities and individuals.
 
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said that in Sub-Saharan Africa AIDS continued to be the leading cause of death of young women of reproductive age, young women being eight times more likely than men to be living with HIV.  Access to quality and comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health and rights should be included in the General Recommendation and that States parties’ reports were monitored for their inclusion of this critical dimension to education.
 
Human Rights Watch said that military occupation of schools was one of the major obstacles to the realization of girls’ access to education.  Lack of water at home and in school was also an obstacle, as was the lack of adequate sanitation facilities at school.
 
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said in a joint statement, that the recent trend to the privatization of education in many countries had a negative impact on the right to education, also through the increase in school fees which was a massive disincentive to education of girls.  Quality free public education was key to demolishing structural barriers to girls’ access to education, and education must be seen as a public good and not as a commodity.
 
Plan International drew the attention to early child care and education which was neglected in the concept note and stressed that the period from birth to eight years of age had critical importance for the physical, emotional and cognitive development of children which laid the foundation for future learning.  The Committee should recognize the importance of early childhood education and its critical role in enabling the realisation of girls’ human rights.
 
International Disability Alliance said that children with disability represented 25 million of almost 75 million primary school children with no access to education.  The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women should adopt the model of inclusive education as a model for the General Recommendation.
 
Coalition HRE2020 called for integrating reference to the right to human rights education of women and girls into the General Recommendation, which would help shift equal rights of women and girls from the margins to the core of education strategies, mainstream gender equality into educational content, and move beyond equal access to education and equality in education to education for equality.
 
International Lesbian and Gay Association stressed that States needed to address institutional discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex girls and women of colour, particular ethnic groups, classes, ages, or abilities, and recommended that States review discriminatory laws, encourage attitude changes, ensure free choice of educational trainings and prejudice-free job opportunities.
 
Autistic Minority International spoke about the education of autistic children and said that education must not turn them into something they were not, namely non-autistic children. 
 
L’Organization internationale poir le droit à l’éducation et la liberté d’enseignement, said that education required a nuanced definition of discrimination and that the differences in education had always played a fundamental role.  That was why it was not possible to consider any separation between students as discriminatory; the education must adapt to differences if it was to respect each person.
 
Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children said that legal protection from corporal punishment was essential to fulfil girls’ right to education, as it was a barrier to schooling and was often cited by girls and boys as a reason for dropping out.  The General Recommendation should highlight the human rights imperative of prohibiting corporal punishment in schools and other settings.
 
International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific said that the education of girls should be a process that prepared girls for jobs that encompassed all spectrums of possibilities, met quality standards for entering the job market and opened access to non-traditional professions.
 
Centre for Reproductive Rights said that it was critical that States adopted policies barring discrimination on the basis of pregnancy in schools and took affirmative steps to accommodate the educational needs of pregnant schoolgirls.  Another violation of the right to education was the lack of comprehensive sexuality education which prevented girls from exercising reproductive autonomy.
 
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said that the Committee must combat the obstacles that threatened the right to education for lesbian, bisexual and transgender girls and youth, which included the continuation of gender stereotypes, violence, mandatory dress codes and bullying.
 
European Roma Rights Centre asked the Committee to urge States to adopt comprehensive policies that addressed the situation of Romani women in general and to ensure equal access to education for Romani children.  States should also recognize and react to the cumulative effects of multiple discrimination that Romani women suffered from.
 
Global Network for Rights and Development said that societies that had equal access to education were happier and wealthier than those societies which discriminated in access to education.
 
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence drew the attention to extremism on racial or political grounds and the negative impact it had on the education of girls.  There should be greater engagement of the international agencies in combating discrimination and extremism.
 
Closing Remarks  
 
BARBARA BAILEY, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s Working Group on girls’ and women’s right to education, in her closing remarks assured the participants in the discussion that their comments would be taken into serious consideration.  The Committee wished to ensure that at the end of this process the international community would have an instrument that would address systemic and persistent challenges that hampered efforts promoting girls’ education though a human rights-based approach.   
 
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, in her closing remarks thanked the panellists, States and non-governmental organizations for their participation in this important discussion which would mark the beginning of the drafting process of the General Recommendation on the right of girls and women to education.
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