Girls’ education and quality education in West & Central Africa face many challenges, from emergencies and HIV/AIDS, to deepening poverty and persistent gender disparities. The result is that approximately 1 child out of 2 is out of school - most of these are girls from poor, rural areas. 81% of children out of school have mothers with no formal education, and region-wide only 86 girls are in school for every 100 boys.
For countries in the region to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), MDG 2: to achieve universal primary education and MDG 3: to promote gender equality and empower women, there is a need for increased attention and programs to promote girls education. The launch of the regional UNGEI network is an important step in making that happen.
The complexity of the issues preventing girls from accessing school requires a diverse group of partners to address them with the goal of moving girls’ education forward at every level and in every setting. To reach the 2015 MDGs related to girls’ education, countries in the region must increase the enrolment rate by 3.5% per year. However, the annual increase observed between 1980 and 2001 has been only 1%. Oxfam predicts that “at the current rate of progress, gender parity will not be reached until 2038”.
The launch of the regional network United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative is an important tool to help government to keep their promises in achieving the MDGs. The Regional Director, (acting interim), for UNICEF in West & Central Africa, Mr Theophane Nikyema, stressed the significance of girls’ education in the region: “There is so much at stake, economically and politically for this region, that we simply cannot trifle with the contribution of women and girls. The sooner we give more attention to gender equality and equity, to prepare the foundation for girls through a quality, empowering education, the better for both the region and the continent as a whole.”
The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) partnership comprises UNICEF, ILO, World Bank, UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNDESA, UNESCO, UNPF, UNHCR, UNIFEM, WFP, WHO and UNDG, along with other key partners including national and local governments, ministries of education, grass-roots organizations, local and international NGOs and donor governments. Partnerships already struck with the African Union (AU) and the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) are critical in mobilizing country ownership for the UNGEI objectives and outcomes so that girls’ education programs can be scaled up and gender gaps reduced. These are prerequisite conditions for attaining the MDGs.
At a regional consultation in Dakar with participation of 30 regional partners in education in November 2005, a regional action plan and strategy for girls’ education in West & Central Africa was developed. The guiding documents were endorsed today April 13 at the official launch of the regional network.
All partners agreed to join their efforts in a biennial plan (2006-2007) to scale up access to quality education for girls in the region. The partnership will work to increase systematic interventions in education through advocacy, research, monitoring of progress, developing norms for intervention in girls’ education and mobilization of funds.
For more information, please contact:
Dakar: Kent Page, Regional Communication Officer,
West & Central Africa, tel: (221) 869-5876; cell: (221) 545-8580
New York: Kate Donovan, Communication Officer, UNICEF NY,
tel: (212) 326-7452; cell: (917) 378-2128
Geneva: Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva,
tel: (41) 22 909 5716; cell: (41) 79 216 94 01