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At UN panel, girls describe challenges keeping their peers out of school

© UNICEF/2007/Markisz
Teresa Cheptoo of Kenya speaks at the panel discussion on ‘Partnerships for protection in the education of girls’ at United Nations headquarters.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, USA, 1 March 2007 – Youth panellists shared the experiences and challenges of girls growing up in their four different countries today at a discussion hosted by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) in New York.

The meeting at UN headquarters – entitled ‘Partnerships for protection in the education of girls’ – was a side event to the 51st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which is taking place this week ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

The UNGEI panel was designed to give a voice to those at the very centre of the struggle to see all girls receive an education.

One panellist, Teresa Cheptoo of Kenya, spoke passionately about the ongoing dangers of female genital mutilation and its effect on education. Quite apart from the health hazards, she told the panel, this ancient tradition leads to early marriage and motherhood for girls – which in turn brings about an end to schooling and leads to other missed opportunities in life.

“My ambition,” said Teresa, “is to be a judge so I can outlaw this harmful practice”.

Poverty a critical factor

The other youth panellists included Chinyanta Chimba of Zambia, Dorothy Hill of South Africa and Jean-Marie Vecina of the Phillippines. They were introduced by Binita Shrestha, a youth radio producer from Nepal whose program teaches life skills.

All speakers pointed out that poverty is a critical factor in keeping girls out of school. They all told of similar struggles with domestic violence, sexual violence and cultural traditions that can hamper a girl’s education.

In the Phillippines, for example, the growing trend to find employment overseas is having a devastating effect on young girls’ lives, Jean-Marie explained.

“There are lots of families that do not have their mothers present when the children are growing up,” she said. “We also have cases where the girls who are left behind with their fathers or other male relatives are being abused, and their mothers are not there to protect them.”

Claiming the right to education

Opening remarks were addressed to the panel and audience by the Minister for Education in the Western Equatorial State of Southern Sudan, Grace Datiro. She explained the difficulties that face traumatised people coming out of conflict and offered recommendations to help more girls claim their right to an education.

Ms. Datiro’s recommendations included:

  • Provide health education to girls in school from an early age
  • Increase recognition of work by young female activists
  • Empower communities to lobby governments for girls’ education
  • Enlighten community chiefs
  • Advocate for improved social services from governments
  • Target women in government in particular to increase girl-friendly legislation
  • Look closely at inter-governmental collaboration.

Key to solving social problems

Ms. Datiro went on to highlight the importance of educating women, not just girls. “I would like my daughter to be better than me,” she said. “We need to empower the mother so she can empower the daughter to be better than she is today.”

The UNGEI panel was useful, but would be improved if it were to follow similar events held at the continental and regional levels, Ms. Datiro observed. This would enable wider participation from women and girls, which could enhance a global dialogue, she said.

“Girls’ education is a barometer for wider society,” said UNGEI Co-chair and Deputy Executive Director of Camfed International Lucy Lake, who chaired today’s event. “If we get it right,” she continued, “solutions to other social problems can fall in behind.”






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