18 April 2005, Geneva
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy:
Thank you all for coming.
As you know, this will be my last visit here as Executive Director of UNICEF.
I am glad that on this occasion I am able to share with you a report of real importance, on a subject I believe is absolutely critical to all development efforts.
That subject is education for all children, with particular emphasis on girls.
The report is Progress for Children – a new series of UNICEF report cards on children’s issues related to the Millennium Development Goals. The first edition, last fall, focused on child survival, which is MDG 4.
This edition looks at where we are with regard to MDG 2 – universal primary education by 2015 – and MDG 3, gender equality, including gender parity in education by the end of this year.
It’s an excellent report, packed with valuable information, and over the next months UNICEF will be discussing its implications with governments, education ministries, finance ministries, and other key partners.
The value of this report lies in not only the country-by-country statistics and projections, but also in analytical observations that break down the general patterns into insights that can make a difference in how we accelerate progress in education at the regional, national, and especially at the local level.
I hope that for your own regions and countries you will have a chance to look closely at what the report has to say.
In general terms, Progress for Children finds that there has been significant progress both toward getting all children into school, and in narrowing the gender gap.
We estimate that 86 percent of primary-school-age children are actually in school in 2005, up from 82 percent in 2001.
Based on this estimate we believe it is safe to say that the number of children who should be in school but are not may have dropped below 100 million for the first time.
But the report also makes clear that the rate of progress is too slow. In order to reach the goal of getting all girls and boys into school by 2015, there will need to be accelerated efforts in many countries and regions. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the most work to do to meet the 2015 target.
To put the challenge in stark terms: the region that had the best annual rate of improvement in enrollment and attendance – the Middle East and North Africa – averaged progress of 1.4 percent per year from 1980 to 2001.
Between 2001 and 2015, there are three regions that would have to exceed that achievement by a very considerable margin: West and Central Africa, East and Southern Africa, and South Asia. The graphs on page 5 of the report make this very clear. Each of these regions has made progress, but much more is still needed.
And indeed there are challenges within every region. Averages often mask serious gaps. Look closely at the findings and you will discover that every nation has work to do.
You have the materials, so I won’t dwell on the numbers further.
In fact, much of what is important in this document is not the numbers, but the issues and explanations behind the statistics. Why is progress happening in some areas and not others? What are the factors that keep children out of school? And why is it necessary to put emphasis on getting girls into school?
Progress depends very much on the commitment of leaders. Everywhere that progress has been strong, it is first and foremost because leaders have committed energy, creativity, and resources to getting children into school. They know that investing in education of their populations is a guaranteed road to stronger long-term economic development, better public health, and much more capable, active, engaged citizens.
But we must acknowledge that different leaders face different challenges. In general, poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS are huge barriers to getting kids into school. We said in the State of the World’s Children report for 2005 that these three factors are undermining childhood itself, robbing nearly a billion children of the protection and well-being they have a right to.
Progress for children looks at these three factors and how they are hindering progress in specific regions and countries.
But I would like to highlight two other revealing factors: A mother’s education, and geography.
Of all the children out of school, 82 percent of them live in rural areas. This is a very telling finding. It means our efforts must focus on reaching remote communities and addressing the specific circumstances that keep children in those communities out of school.
At the same time, of all the children out of school, 75 percent of them have mothers who never went to school themselves. To me this is a very striking finding.
And it goes to the heart of why we need to put emphasis on getting girls into school.
In the first instance, girls have traditionally been at a huge disadvantage when it comes to school. The fact that gender gap has been declining steadily since 1980 and we are still not at parity makes clear just how far we had to go. Still today, for every 100 boys out of school there are some 117 girls in the same situation.
The opportunity is that we know that when girls get a basic education, they are more likely to grow up healthy, have stable household incomes, their own children are more likely to survive and stay healthy, and their children are more likely to go to school.
Overcoming the barriers that keep girls out of school – and again the numbers vary widely among and within regions – overcoming those barriers means not only improving the prospects for individual girls, but improving the long-term prospects of their children.
There is a clear reason why gender equality and empowering women is its own MDG: the evidence is overwhelming that the exclusion of women and girls, that discrimination against women and girls in all its forms, is the biggest anchor holding back national development around the world.
After ten years at UNICEF I am absolutely convinced that MDGs 2 and 3 – education for every girl and boy, and the equal fulfillment of the rights of all people, regardless of gender – are the lynchpins of the whole MDG enterprise. If we do not succeed on these two goals, we will not succeed on any others.
In that regard I would like to offer the reminder that the MDGs are not an end in themselves. They are worthy goals, certainly, but the real heart of the Millennium promise is the fulfillment of human rights. That is what we must be striving for. And that is why we must always look behind the numbers at how we are actually treating children and women.
The Millennium Declaration is the real goal; the MDGs serve primarily as markers. Markers of our progress toward making life for every human being – starting in childhood and never relenting – a life of health, opportunity, and dignity.
In my ten years at UNICEF I am proud that we embraced human rights as the core of our agenda and the basis of our approach to the well-being of children. While there is much more I wish we might have accomplished in the past decade, I am very proud of the organization I now leave – its excellent people, its financial and administrative health, and its willingness to keep pushing the agenda forward for children, beyond the accepted wisdom and practice. It has indeed been an honor for me to serve.
Before I take your questions, let me just say that it has always been a pleasure to launch important news here in Geneva. This press corps is uniquely attuned to and interested in the enormous humanitarian work of the United Nations, and it has been my pleasure to meet with you through the years.
On behalf of UNICEF, I thank you for your hard work and your contributions to the well-being of the world’s children through your reporting.
Thank you very much.