DAR ES SAALAM / GENEVA, 3 December 2002 – Declaring that “the education of girls is key to real progress in overcoming poverty,” UNICEF today announced a major initiative to get girls into school in 25 priority countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
Speaking to a meeting of African education ministers here, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy announced the “25 by 2005” campaign to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education. The campaign, which includes 15 countries in Africa, focuses on countries where girls are furthest behind – and where progress would make a real impact. Bellamy said UNICEF is prepared to do whatever is necessary to help the countries meet the goal of gender equality in education by 2005.
“It is our commitment that no girl will be left behind as her country attempts to move forward, and that every girl will be educated to assume her rightful place as an agent in her country’s development,” Bellamy told the ministers. She spoke at the opening session of the eighth conference of Ministers of Education of African Member States (MINEDAF VIII), being held in Dar es Saalam through 6 December.
The Millennium Development Goals agreed to by all the Member States of the United Nations have set 2005 as the first milestone, seeking to end gender disparities in primary and secondary education by the end of that year.
Bellamy warned that failure to achieve credible progress toward the goals is a threat to human development. “Any delay will only perpetuate entrenched inequities and condemn yet another generation of children to a life of poverty, dependence, and unfulfilled possibility,” Bellamy said.
UNICEF will work closely with national governments and other partners to identify girls who are not in school in the 25 countries. In each country, UNICEF will work with the government to mobilize new resources, build broad national consensus about the need to get girls in school, and help improve schools themselves to make them more welcoming to girls.
UNICEF said the lessons learned in the 25 by 2005 campaign over the next two years will be applied to accelerating girls’ education in other countries until all children – girls and boys – enjoy their right to a quality basic education.
UNICEF said it had chosen a manageable number of countries and based its selection on criteria that looked for countries with one or more of the following: low enrolment rates for girls; gender gaps of more than 10% in primary education enrolment; countries with more than 1 million girls out of school; and countries hard hit by a range of crises that affect schooling opportunities for girls, such as HIV/AIDS and conflict.
The following countries are targeted for the campaign:
6. Burkina Faso
7. Central African Republic
9. Congo (DRC)
20. Papua New Guinea
The majority of these countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region with one of the most pronounced gender gaps in enrolment and home to 50 million out-of-school children, including 27 million girls. Despite progress in girls’ enrolment in the last ten years, glaring gender disparities persist in many of the selected African countries.
Bellamy underscored the importance of focusing on girls, noting that the numbers and proportions of girls out of school present a “human rights tragedy and a downward spiral in development.”
Of the 120 million children who never go to school, the majority are girls. An even greater majority of those who get some schooling but do not reach the fifth grade are girls. Girls – more often than boys – are denied opportunities to go to school in times of crisis and instability. In many countries cultural gender bias and domestic demands keep girls at home and out of the classroom.
UNICEF advocates for investment in girls’ education as an entryway for all children to fulfil their right to a quality basic education. A singular focus on getting girls into school works to bring down the barriers that keep all children out of school. Moreover, when girls are educated they are more likely to ensure the education and health of their own children – a cyclical effect of enormous importance.
Held on average every five years, the MINEDAF conferences make a critical assessment of educational policies and practices in Africa and recommend strategic action.
The conference of African Education Ministers follows on the heels of the five-day Forum of African Parliamentarians for Education, a consultation of African lawmakers aimed at solving problems facing education in Africa, also held in Dar es Salaam.
Carol Bellamy’s visit to Tanzania is her second-to-last stop on a five-nation tour she began on 17 November. Bellamy is in Africa to spotlight a series of major issues confronting children on the continent and around the world, including child immunization rates, children orphaned by AIDS, the education gap affecting girls, and the growing drought crisis in the Horn of Africa. She continues to Ethiopia to visit drought-affected regions on 4 December.
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For further information, please contact:
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7261
Afefa Nyuidzi, UNICEF Media, Dar es Saalam (225-742) 76 72 86