UNICEF calls Girls’ Education the Key to the Future
NEW YORK, 6 March 2004 – UNICEF said today that nothing will change for women unless girls’ education becomes a global priority.
“If we want to make sure that women and children are better off today and in the future, we must start by opening classrooms to girls everywhere,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said two days before International Women’s Day. “ Education is the right of every girl and boy and an essential element in the progress of any country.”
Ensuring that all girls get a basic education is a vital step toward reducing poverty, hunger and child mortality and stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases, Bellamy said. Because girls generally face higher obstacles to education, removing those obstacles is the best way to ensure that enrolment increases for both boys and girls.
Globally, there are some 10 million more girls out of school than boys. Eighty-three percent of all girls out of school in the world live in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and East Asia and the Pacific.
In addition to being disproportionately denied a primary education, girls are also more likely than boys to fail to complete secondary education because of early marriage and early pregnancy. The obligation to care for older relatives as well as younger siblings often means a girl is taken out of school before she has completed her studies.
Being deprived of an education is catastrophic for all children, but for girls the fall-out is particularly severe and difficult to reverse, Bellamy said. Girls denied an education are more vulnerable to hunger, violence, abuse, exploitation and trafficking. They are more likely to die in childbirth and are at greater risk of HIV/AIDS.
“To deny a girl an education not only crushes her own potential, but diminishes the chance that any children she might eventually have – both boys and girls – will go to school and will be able to escape a life of poverty,” Bellamy said. “Luckily, the flip side is also true. When a girl receives an education, everyone wins – the girl herself, her family, her community and her country.”
Bellamy called on development agencies, governments, families, religious groups and civil society to intensify their efforts on behalf of girls’ education.
Specific measures to boost girls’ enrolment include the prohibition of school fees of all kinds, the integration of education policies into national plans for poverty reduction, the inclusion of girls’ education as an essential component of development efforts and increased international funding for education.
“It’s a simple equation,” Bellamy said. “ Strong countries need strong women; strong women need a strong start; a strong start needs a good education.”
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