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Girls' Education: the best return on investment

© UNICEF/SWZK00203/Hosta
Turkish girls celebrate the start of a new school year

Launch of Progress for Children

ISTANBUL, 12 MAY 2005 – Girls’ education offers the best return on state investment, says the UNICEF report Progress for Children, launched today in Turkey.

“The Turkish Government is tackling this issue head on,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. “It recognizes that no other single investment can produce better results and has shifted its focus and policies to get hundreds of thousands of girls into the classroom.”

UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Turkey to achieve gender equality in primary school enrolment by the end of 2005. The national Girls’ Education Campaign, launched in 2003, has resulted in the enrolment of an additional 113,000 girls in the last two years. The Government has introduced free text books for all primary school children and cash incentives for the poorest families – with a higher amount paid for girls – on condition that they send their children to school.

Despite this progress, almost 570,000 Turkish girls still miss out on education. The goal is to get another 300,000 girls into schools in 2005, focusing on the 53 Turkish provinces where their enrolment is lowest.

“As Progress for Children shows, the benefits of girls’ education are beyond dispute,” said Maria Calivis. “It reduces child and maternal mortality, boosts economic productivity, improves health and nutrition and protects girls from abuse, exploitation and HIV/AIDS. It is the most tangible and affordable step towards gender equality and is central to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. For Turkey, on the brink of entry into the European Union, there can be no more cost-effective investment.”

The regional picture

Progress for Children finds most countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) on track to meet the gender parity goal in primary education in 2005, with primary net enrolment/attendance ratios standing at around 88 per cent in 2001.

However, the regional average masks disparities between countries, with net enrolment/attendance ratios ranging from a high of 97.5 per cent in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to a low of 76.2 per cent in Serbia and Montenegro. Average figures also mask disparities within countries, with the poorest children, children from ethnic minorities, children with disabilities and those in rural areas often falling through the educational net. Across the CEE/CIS region, the poorest children are 1.6 times more likely to be out of school. But they are five times more likely to be out of school in Moldova and Kazakhstan.

The global picture

The world has made impressive progress on gender equality in primary schools. Some 125 out of 180 countries with available data are on course to reach gender parity by 2005. At the current rate of progress most countries in the Middle East, North Africa, East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean are on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015. At the other extreme most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and many in South Asia won’t come close unless they greatly accelerate their rates of progress. Without dramatic progress in these countries, it will be impossible to reach the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015.

Fundamental barriers to increased access to education include poverty, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, conflict, child labour, child trafficking and natural disaster, as well as low levels of maternal education. Some 75 per cent of children out of primary school in developing countries have mothers who did not go to school.

The report calls for:

 A radical shift in thinking and policies. All countries must begin to view education as a fundamental human right, not as an optional add-on where budgets allow.
 A drastic increase in international aid for education. The UN estimates that an extra USD 5.6 billion per year will be required to achieve universal primary education.


UNICEF, as one of the lead agencies in the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), is committed to narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2005 and to ensuring that by 2015, all children complete primary schooling. UNGEI is a partnership that embraces the UN system, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector, and communities and families.

For more information:

Angela Hawke, Communication Officer, UNICEF CEE/CIS: Tel: (+ 41 79) 601 9917.





Progress for Children

Full text of speech by Maria Calivis

More on the report


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