MPs urged to address issues preventing girls’ access to educationUNICEF, CAMPE and DSHE join hands in promoting ‘gender equality in education: beyond numbers’
Dhaka, December 4, 2010: UNICEF, Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) and the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) today called for concrete action by the Members of Parliament to address the issues that still prevent girls from accessing education in Bangladesh. The call was made at a high level workshop entitled ‘Gender Equality in Education: Beyond Numbers’ organized by the three organizations under the umbrella UN Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI).
The Chief Guest at the opening session was the Speaker of the Bangladeshi Parliament, Md. Abdul Hamid, Advocate, MP. The Parliament Chief Whip, Vice Principal Md. Abdus Shahid, MP, the Executive Director, CAMPE, and former advisor to the Caretaker Government, Rasheda K. Choudhury, UNICEF Representative, Carel de Rooy, Prof. Noman Ur Rashid, DG, DSHE were also present. The Minister of Education, Nurul Islam Nahid, MP and the State Minister for Women and Children Affairs, Dr. Shirin Sharmin Choudhury, attended the closing session of the day-long workshop.
In total, more than 50 members of Parliament took part in the discussions.
Although Bangladesh achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary education enrolment rates some years ago, girls continue to face a number of challenges when it comes to education. Increasing reports of ‘eve teasing’ and stalking show that girls are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment on their way to and from school - a situation which can result in drop out. Early marriage is another impediment to girls’ education. After grade 7, the dropout rate for girls increases significantly and surpasses the rate for boys, especially in rural areas. When the number of girls who drop out is added to those who have never enrolled, it is estimated that approximately 1.5 million primary-aged girls in Bangladesh are not in school.
"More females drop out at primary, secondary, and tertiary level’, said Nurul Islam Nahid, MP, the Minister of Education. ‘Girls’ education - enrolment, retention and acquisition of skills - must be prioritized by all, especially MPs, the Government, NGOs, development partners and civil society. The role of MPs within their constituencies is imperative and I urge them to come up with strategies that would benefit boys and girls nationally whilst also addressing local needs."
According to CAMPE’s report ‘State of Primary Education in Bangladesh’, girls currently score lower than boys in competency tests. This could be linked to a persistent cultural belief that girls are inherently inferior to boys in mental ability and aptitude. The attitude of teachers can often be gender-biased.
“We have a golden opportunity today with a notable number of female Members present in Parliament for the first time in Bangladesh’s history’, said Carel de Rooy, UNICEF Representative, addressing the group of Parliamentarians. “We want to share with you information, knowledge and experience from other countries, so that this issue of gender equality in education can become your fight and your passion. There is a lot that you can do, ensuring adequate resources allocation to education, reaching out to children who are not in school and investing in innovative solutions.”
Ms. Suprava Ghimire, Member of the Nepali Congress, explained to participants how female MPs are playing an active role in promoting girls’ education in Nepal. The workshop highlighted the fact that, in Bangladesh, much more could be done to encourage girls’ participation in education. For example, the Government has not yet reached its target to recruit 60 per cent female teachers. In 2008, only 42 per cent of primary teachers and 20 per cent of head teachers were female.
“In a country like Bangladesh, as in other countries, public representatives can play a huge role in promoting gender equality”, said Rasheda K. Choudhury, Executive Director, CAMPE and former Advisor to the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh. Female MPs are a wonderful but still under-utilized resource! They can be particularly effective in mobilizing and motivating families and local communities to uphold the rights of women and girls. With strong political commitment, pro-people strategies and realistic goals, female MPs can really make a difference in promoting gender equality in education.”
The workshop produced a number of suggestions as to what MPs could do to help girls overcome some of the barriers to education. These included promoting debates in Parliament on this issue, ensuring a gender-responsive budget with specific allocations to encourage education for girls, mobilizing support in their constituencies and investing part of their Constituency Development Fund in initiatives to support girls. As a result of the seminar, the organizers expect that specific actions will be taken by the MPs of Bangladesh to address the current issues of gender inequality in education.
UNGEI was launched in Bangladesh in June 2006 with 6 members only; presently the forum comprises around 20 organizations/agencies from relevant government Ministries/Directorate (Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MOPME), Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWCA) and implementing directorates; NGOs (CAMPE, BRAC, Action AIDS, Step Towards Development, Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), Under-Privileged Children’s Education Programme (UCEP), Care Bangladesh, Save the Children); civil society groups, academic/research institutions (Institute of Education and Research (IER), Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS)) and UN agencies (UNFPA, ILO, UNESCO, and UNICEF).
Amongst these, six organizations are acting as the Core Group members: CAMPE (Co-Chair for UNGEI Bangladesh), DSHE, UNICEF, UNESCO, Under Privileged Children’s Education Programme (UCEP), Care Bangladesh.