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TURKEY : closing the gender gap in education

© UNICEF/SWZK00203/Hosta
Girls in Mardin, in South Eastern Turkey, welcome the start of a new school year.

GENEVA, 25 November 2005: “It may seem surprising that Turkey has a problem in girls’ education,” said Edmond McLoughney, UNICEF Representative in Turkey, talking to media in Geneva. “But the country has 800,000 girls out of school. And there are 540,000 more boys in school than girls.”

As the country heads for EU accession, more than 50% of girls aged 6-14 are out of school in some provinces.
Girls’ enrolment is particularly low in the rural East and Southeast, and in the poorest areas of Istanbul, where 75,000 girls of school age are not in the classrooms – more than in any other province.

Outlining the causes, McLoughney cited poverty, with around 28% of Turks living below the poverty line. Then there is tradition, with families arguing that their mothers didn’t go to school, or claiming that education for girls is a waste of time in areas where girls are married off at an early age. Domestic labour is another stumbling block to girls’ education, with girls looking after younger siblings or taking part in cotton harvest, particularly in the south-east.

“One year ago I was in Sanliurfa,” said Mcloughney, “and the fields were full of children picking cotton – all of them girls.”

Haydi Kızlar Okula!

Mcloughney described the Haydi Kızlar Okula! (Come on girls, let’s go to school) campaign to get all girls into the classroom. UNICEF has been working closely with the Ministry of National Education on the campaign, which was launched in 2003, and has helped an additional 114,500 girls enrol in school.

“The Prime Minister and the First Lady are committed to this campaign. Religious leaders are committed. High level leadership by provincial governors has been very apparent in the provinces where we have seen the greatest progress”.

The campaign relies on thousands of volunteers who go from house to house, armed with a booklet that provides the answers to every possible parental objection to sending girls to school. You say you are too poor to send your daughter to school? Well, the government will give you a grant to help you. You say that education is of no use to a girl? Well, she has an absolute right to go to school, and her children are far more likely to survive and thrive if she is educated.

While Turkey has not been able to reach the global goal of gender parity in education by 2005, it has come a long way. There is real optimism that the country will hit the target by 2007.

While the results for the 2005-2006 school year are not yet confirmed, it already looks like being the best year since the campaign began, with large numbers of extra girls in the classrooms in the provinces with the biggest gender gaps.

“The fact is that everyone has heard about this campaign,” said McLoughney. “The challenge now is that the government simply can’t build schools fast enough to meet demand. And there are transport problems in mountainous areas, particularly at this time of year with the snows on their way.”

The GAP report

Mr. Mcloughney's visit to Geneva coincided with the release of a major new report on Gender Achievements and Prospects in Education (GAP). Forty-six countries have fallen short of the target of getting as many girls as boys into school by 2005, UNICEF said today, launching a report illustrating progress and challenges toward achieving gender equity in education.

Gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005, and at all levels of education by 2015, is the key target for ensuring the Millennium Development Goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women (MDG 3).  The target is also a precursor to the goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015 (MDG 2). 

Yet nearly 115 million children, the majority of them girls, remain out of primary school, according to UNICEF, the lead agency in the UN Girls’ Education Initiative.

For more information:

Angela Hawke, Communication Officer, UNICEF CEE/CIS. Tel: (+4122) 909 5433, email:







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