|Girls in school in Punjab Province, Pakistan. Programmes and partnerships such as the United Nations Girls Education Initiative are focussing on getting girls into school worldwide.|
By Jane O’Brien
NEW YORK, USA, 25 September 2006 – More than half of all children who do not go to school are girls. Achieving universal primary education is a Millennium Development Goal and one of UNICEF’s primary objectives.
At a panel discussion organized by the US Mission to the United Nations in New York, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman gave a keynote address on the vital importance of educating girls in the developing world.
“If you look at the evidence, it tells us that educating girls is critical for development,” she told the gathering of international educators. “Educating girls raises economic productivity, it reduces poverty and it reduces infant and maternal mortality. It helps improves nutritional status and health.
“As the World Bank has said, educating girls yields a higher rate of return than almost any other investment available in the developing world,” continued Ms. Veneman. “Knowledge is power – power to make personal decisions and choices to pursue a profession, to become self-reliant and to become an active, productive member of society.”
|© UNICEF New York/2006/Berkwitz|
|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman addresses a panel on girls’ education, including (from left) US Cultural Ambassador Mary Wilson, Dr. Hasina Mojadidi of Afghanistan and Alba Margarita Aguilar de Guardado of Save the Children, El Salvador.|
An achievable goal
In an introductory speech at the panel, US Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky called UNICEF a world leader in promoting girls’ education.
“Education of girls is fundamental to building stable, democratic and economically prosperous societies,” she said. “The education gap for girls in developing countries and post-conflict societies remains a collective global task.”
Ms. Veneman said girls face greater obstacles to education than boys, and special strategies are needed to assist them. She pointed to success in breaking down barriers in some countries, such as the abolition of school fees in Kenya and nutrition programmes in India, but added that more needs to be done.
“More children are enrolled in primary school today than ever before, and the gender gap in education is narrowing,” noted Ms. Veneman. “Yet an estimated 115 million children remain out of school, and over 50 per cent of those are girls.
“The United Nations Girls' Education Initiative is an active, expanding partnership focussing on getting girls into school and keeping girls in school,” she said. “Universal education is good social policy, and it is achievable.”