Achieve universal primary education and promote gender equality and empowerment of women
(MDG 2, 3)

Addressing gender equality in education

© UNICEF/HQ05-0224/Pietrasik
Millennium Development Goal 2, to achieve universal primary education, is intimately linked with Goal 3, to promote gender equality. Goal 3 is the only goal with a target that was to be accomplished by year-end 2005: gender parity in primary education.

Unfortunately, the goal was not met. Only 91 developing countries and 34 industrialized countries were on track, despite girls’ enrolment rising faster than boys’ in most countries.

Progress for Children: A Report Card on Gender Parity and Primary Education (UNICEF, April 2005), noted that even where gender parity was achieved, the issue remained of what effect this had on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

At the November United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative technical consultation in Beijing, experts assessed progress, and UNICEF released Gender Achievements and Prospects in Education: The GAP Report, Part One. This report noted that although 125 countries were on course to achieve gender parity, overall enrolment remained unacceptably low. In addition, although many of the 25 countries that qualified for special attention made some gains, only five were on track to meet the goal.

Some advances and some lessons learned

Advances can be attributed to improved planning, increased investment and efficient implementation at the national level – due in large part to the galvanizing effect of the MDGs as a rallying focus for national development.

To consolidate and expand gains, UNICEF is increasingly working at the systemic or policy level, using partnerships and advocacy to influence education-sector strategies and policies, increase access and enhance quality. In 2005, this allowed UNICEF to play a key role in helping such countries as the Gambia, the Republic of Moldova and Tajikistan prepare plans that qualify them for Education for All Fast-Track Initiative funding.

Large-scale campaigns remain an important way for UNICEF to help get children into school. In 2005, major back-to-school campaigns and enrolment drives were carried out in the Comoros and Nepal; in tsunami-affected countries, where 90 per cent of children were back in school within three months of the disaster; in Afghanistan, where half a million girls enrolled in school for the first time; in Haiti, where 38,000 children (60 per cent of them girls) were helped back to school after natural disasters or sociopolitical violence; and in Somalia, where 114,000 primary-school-age children were registered for the first time.

Several important lessons have emerged from this work to get children into school and help them stay there: Equitable distribution of investments must be taken seriously. Lasting gains are predicated on tackling such issues as nutrition and child health, sanitation and child labour. And education gains contribute to other Millennium Development Goals. Work to improve girls’ education fosters safer sanitation and water in schools and expands women’s participation in household decision-making and community activities.

Heeding the lessons of previous years will be instrumental in righting the plight of the 115 million primary-school-age children who should be learning but remain outside school doors.