USA, 7 September: Strides still needed in girls' education, says women's rights expert
The 2010 edition of UNICEF’s Progress for Children shows that despite advancement towards the Millennium Development Goals, many of the poorest and most disadvantaged children are still missing out. UNICEF invited several experts to offer their insights on what can be done to realize the MDGs for all.
By Lorna O'Hanlon
NEW YORK, 7 September 2010 – Education is a key component of United Nations Millennium Development Goal 3: to promote gender equality and empowerment of women. According to UNICEF’s flagship ‘Progress for Children’ report 2010 – subtitled ’Achieving the MDGs with Equity’ – most countries have reached or are close to reaching the MDG target for gender parity in primary education.
Nonetheless, however, disparities continue to persist at both primary and secondary school levels. While girls’ primary school enrolment is now over 82 percent worldwide, it is not yet on par with boys’ enrolment, which stands at about 85 percent.
Investing in girls’ education
According to Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, former president of the International Centre for Research and Women, the education target has made an important difference in the lives of girls and women.
“MDG 3 has certainly helped to serve as a rallying point to get more attention to gender equality and the empowerment of women,” said Dr. Rao Gupta. “Action and investments of dollars into women’s constraints and needs has increased. And that has resulted in some progress.”
But despite these strides, analysis of the latest available data in ‘Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity’ shows that progress has not benefited all girls equally.
“The girls who are left behind are the ones who are most in need – and these are poor girls, those who belong to minority populations within their countries and those who live in rural areas,” Dr. Rao Gupta added. “Unfortunately, they are the ones who still have not received the benefits of the various investments made in most countries around the world.”
Interventions that work
At secondary school level, girls’ enrolment continues to lag behind that of boys in four out of six regions globally. It is lowest in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr. Rao Gupta said that in order to achieve any of the MDGs, special focus must be put on girls and women to ensure they have equal access to resources and their rights are realized.
She cited specific strategies that have improved girls’ access to education, such as the elimination of school fees and the adoption of subsidies and cash transfers to incentivize families to send their daughters to school.
The elimination of school fees in Kenya in 2003, for example, has led to increasing numbers of girls – and boys – attending school.
Dr. Rao Gupta believes that these kinds of success stories prove that the return value on investing in girls’ education is high.
“Over the last five years, I would say that the focus on adolescent girls and the possibilities that they hold in their hands has certainly been more evocatively and compellingly established than ever before,” she said.
“If we continue to invest in adolescent girls, we will transform the future for all,” she added.