On Girl's Education and Poverty Eradication
Geneva, Switzerland, 6 July 1999
Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:
I am very pleased to join you for this important discussion.
The conquest of poverty has become the overarching goal of the United Nations, and the theme before us today goes to the heart of the matter -- for full employment and work, empowering women and eradicating poverty are all mutually reinforcing goals.
I would like briefly to discuss this nexus in the context of the rights perspective that increasingly frames all of the work of the United Nations - and show why quality basic education, particularly the education of girls, is an essential prerequisite of any global anti-poverty strategy.
Mr. President, education is an inalienable human right, guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, among other instruments -- and UNICEF has been working to promote the right of basic education for some 40 years.
Quality basic education for all is vital to society because it produces people who can contribute to the economic and social development that is required to eradicate poverty.
The focus of UNICEF's efforts is on achieving quality basic education, especially for girls and women, as a central requirement for ensuring their empowerment and advancement.
Mr. President, the sweeping changes for the better in the global employment picture needed to eradicate poverty also require education, for only through education can we ensure that young people are prepared to join a dynamic and demanding workforce.
Some two-thirds of the 130 million children currently not in school are girls -- and their education will make a major contribution to the larger, better prepared work force that the future demands.
Moreover, education for girls is the key to the health and nutrition of populations; to overall improvements in the standard of living; to better agricultural and environmental practices; to higher Gross National Product; and to greater involvement and gender balance in decision-making at all levels of society.
Only education can equip girls with the confidence to make the most of their abilities; provide a forum for changing attitudes about violence while promoting equality; and help put young women on a path to economic empowerment -- a position from which they can better protect themselves from gender-based violence.
In short, Mr. President, there can be no significant or sustainable transformation in societies and no significant reduction in poverty until girls receive the quality basic education they need to take their rightful place as equal partners in development.
On the threshold of the 21st Century, the world has become a place of extraordinarily rapid and transforming change. In ways distinct from previous generations, the young must be prepared to cope with these continuous changes, learning throughout life, and for life. To succeed, they need to learn how to learn -- and to apply what they have learned to different situations.
To prepare children to meet these demands, we must address the dynamic that exists between poverty and education. It is clear, for example, that poverty is a major cause of under-education, which makes for a weaker work force.
At the same time, under-education is also a cause of poverty. For a wide variety of reasons, under-educated parents, particularly women, are less able to see to it that their children get the education they need. This contributes to factors that help perpetuate the cycle of poverty, such as child labour, low wages, and job insecurity.
Mr. President, there is overwhelming evidence that the key to educating children for secure and sustainable livelihoods is to ensure that they receive the best possible nurturing, health care and nutrition in their first years of life.
Early childhood care and education are pivotal to how a child progresses, grows and develops from birth to his or her primary school years -- and these measures can exert a powerful influence on a child's continued health and well-being for many years beyond.
That is why UNICEF's new global agenda for children in the 21st Century is based on three imperatives for child development, all of them linked to the realisation of the equal rights of girls and women:
First, we must ensure that infants begin life in good health - and that young children are nurtured in a caring environment that enhances the physical, emotional and intellectual capacities that they must have to learn and to grow.
Second, we must ensure that all children have access to quality basic education.
And third, we must ensure that adolescents have ample opportunities to develop and participate in a safe and enabling environment.
Mr. President, UNICEF believes that these three outcomes are crucial to ending the endless cycle of global poverty, much of it occasioned by poor health, poor nutrition and inadequate education -- poverty that has not only compromised the lives of countless numbers of children, but jeopardised the future of the very societies in which they live.
Girls' education is the best investment for poverty eradication because it is the key to achieving gender equality-in the workplace, and elsewhere.
Moreover, we know that education for girls yields numerous other social benefits, including later marriages; reduced fertility rates; reduced infant and maternal mortality rates; better nourished and healthier children and families; fewer childbirth-related deaths, and greater opportunities and life choices for women.
At the same time, girls' education can bring about enormous economic benefits, including decreased social burdens on governments; increased family incomes; greater work force participation and a larger, better-prepared work force; greater participation of women, and their unique contributions, in development; and greater participation of women in political and economic decisions.
Mr. President, UNICEF's contribution to poverty eradication through girls' education is based on a programmatic approach. In partnership with governments from Algeria to Zimbabwe, we are helping to build gender-sensitive, quality education systems that are carefully planned and can be sustained.
The results so far are encouraging. For example:
In Angola, the mini-escolas programme is designed to improve access, especially for girls.
In Chad, girls' enrolment in school quadrupled between 1997 and 1998 in targeted zones.
In the Dominican Republic, over 300 teachers have received gender training in relation to classroom practices.
In Egypt, community schools have changed girls' enrolment rates in villages from as low as 30 per cent to as much as 70 per cent.
And in Sudan, the special programme is helping to increase nomadic girls' access to primary school.
In Nepal, community-based child care centres are reducing the child care responsibilities of girls so they can attend school.
Mr. President, educating a nation is ultimately a role for good government. In ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments have accepted the responsibility of ensuring that all children will receive a quality basic education. But in fulfilling this solemn commitment, they need support -- not only from parents and communities, but also from non-governmental and community-based organisations, including religious institutions.
That is why the successful application of UNICEF's new global agenda for children involves going beyond our traditional development collaborators and our dedicated network of National Committees to forge broad new alliances -- alliances that will include, as equal partners, community-based organisations, people's movements and other diverse elements of civil society -- including private sector entities -- that have a genuine concern for human progress.
Mr. President, UNICEF's effectiveness in eradicating poverty -- indeed, the effectiveness of all the Funds and Programmes as well as the rest of the UN System and the inter-governmental bodies -- will be judged by how well we work together to support the people we serve.
For UNICEF the truest indicator of success will be measured by the well-being of the world's children - and the strength of our determination to act always in their best interests. And in all of this, the Economic and Social Council can have an enormous effect and influence.