|Maldives: At the start of the new school year, two girls stand in a queue at the UNICEF-assisted Qatar School on Gan Island in Laamu Atoll.|
She could be the next president of her country – if only she could read or write.
For too many girls, the basic human right to education is denied. In countries across the world, crippling poverty, long distances to school, and social norms promoting gender inequality prevent girls from learning.
In response to this troubling reality, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), a partnership of organizations dedicated to promoting girls’ education, was launched in 2000 at the World Education Forum in Dakar by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
UNICEF is proud to be the lead agency and secretariat for UNGEI. Together with its partners, UNICEF is working hard to transcend barriers to girls’ education and narrow the gender gap in primary and secondary education.
The goal is to ensure that by 2015, all children are able to complete primary schooling, with girls and boys having equal access to free, quality education. The focus is on the countries and regions with the widest gender disparities in primary education – those places where simply being born female resigns so many children to a life of illiteracy and missed opportunities.
UNGEI works towards the removal of barriers to learning, such as school fees and other education costs, and for access to education in emergency situations. It advocates for early childhood development and education for children of poor families, literacy and the empowerment of women and young people.
At the national level, UNGEI supports country-led development and seeks to influence decision-making and investments to ensure that gender equity guides national education policies, plans and programmes. UNGEI operates mainly through advocacy and technical support in designing, financing and implementing national education plans. It offers stakeholders – which include UN system agencies, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector, communities and families – a platform for action and galvanizes their efforts to get girls into school.
For example, in Yemen, where poverty and high population growth rates have contributed to high rates of illiteracy and gender inequality in education, UNGEI partnered with the Ministry of Education and the private sector to create an advocacy campaign aimed at parents. The ‘Let me Learn’ initiative aims to raise awareness about the importance of girls’ education and increase girls’ enrollment through motivational billboards, posters and text messages in both urban and rural areas.
In Yemen and the rest of the globe, UNGEI’s work is possible through continued partnership and collaboration at global, regional and country levels.
Substantial progress has been made. Girls’ education is expanding across the world – but not fast enough.
With global help and support, UNICEF will continue working to remove barriers to learning, helping to ensure that girls have a voice and a chance for a bright and successful future.
Together, UNGEI and its partners can reverse the cruel realities of educational inequality, empowering girls to become tomorrow’s future leaders.