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UNICEF Launches Girls’ Education Initiative in Western and Central Africa

UNICEF Chief Asks Leaders to Focus on Girls’ Education as a “Matter of Extreme Urgency”

OUAGADOUGOU/NEW YORK, 23 June 2003 - As a number of countries in Western and Central Africa struggle to achieve their development goals, UNICEF is calling on donors and governments in the region to assign greater weight to the role of education and to invest far more in the education of girls.

“Hopes of improving education in this part of Africa have been shattered by a devastating set of social and economic ills, coupled with internal conflicts in several countries,” said Carol Bellamy, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “As a result, so too are the hopes of any sustainable development. Educating girls is a proven way to revive these hopes.”

Bellamy will be in Burkina Faso on 24 June to launch an initiative aiming to give more girls access to a quality education in Western and Central Africa. The effort to get and keep girls in school in the region is undermined in several countries by acute poverty, ongoing conflict and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The regional launch is part of ‘25 by 2005’, UNICEF’s global initiative to accelerate progress on getting more girls into school in 25 countries by the year 2005. UNICEF is working closely with these countries to help them achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reaching gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005.

UNICEF believes that by making education more accessible to girls, countries take a decisive step in fulfilling the right of all children - both girls and boys - to receive a quality basic education. Full education for all children cannot be achieved without the education of girls.

Eight countries in Western and Central Africa are included in the 25 by 2005 initiative: Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria.

“It will take significant adjustments for African governments to meet the expenses of providing girls and boys a quality basic education and equal access to school. And it will take significant funding from the donor community to help them. But the payoff for the region, if countries focus specifically on getting girls into school, would be tremendous,” Bellamy said.

She added that families and communities in the region need to be encouraged to fully embrace education, and particularly that of girls, as a meaningful and worthy investment. Bellamy said the onus is on governments to lead the way.

Bellamy will underscore this message at the opening of the regional workshop, Investment Options in Education: Addressing Gender and other Disparities, organized by UNICEF in partnership with the World Bank, also being held in Burkina Faso 25-27 June. The workshop will guide Ministers of Education in all 24 countries in the region through an analysis of regional investment trends and provide concrete evidence for governments to shift their investment priorities and focus on specific measures to get more girls into school.

While continuing to support all its programmes for education, UNICEF is working with governments and partners to rapidly scale up investments in the 25 strategic countries where urgent help is required to make any real progress by 2005.

“Girls’ education is a matter of extreme urgency in this region,” Bellamy said. “We cannot sit by and allow young girls to be robbed of their rights, of the chance to become healthier women, more productive citizens and better informed mothers. This is what an education offers and what we cannot in good conscience deny them.”

Why girls?

Girls make up the majority of the nearly 120 million children who are out of school. An even greater majority of those who do get some schooling do not reach the fifth grade. Girls – more often than boys – are consistently denied opportunities to go to school for an array of reasons including those related to HIV/AIDS, gender discrimination, domestic demands, traditional practices, safety concerns and inappropriate physical and learning environments at schools.

The unique and far-reaching benefits of educating girls include the proven facts that educated females are more likely to better protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and other diseases, have safer pregnancies, have healthier children and send their own children to school. Educating girls empowers them with essential information and skills that save and protect their lives and those of their future children, and contributes to more productive and democratic societies and more economically progressive nations.

UNICEF advocates for investment in girls’ education as an entryway for all children to fulfill their right to a quality basic education. A singular focus on getting girls into school works to bring down the barriers that keep all children out of school. Removing these barriers often involves addressing issues of wider community development, such as water and sanitation and early childhood care.

Why these 25 countries?

UNICEF’s 25 by 2005 campaign is a major initiative to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education in 25 countries by the year 2005. The campaign, which includes thirteen countries in Africa and six countries in Southern Asia, focuses on countries where girls’ education is in a critical situation and urgent help is required to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reaching gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005.

UNICEF will work closely with national governments and other partners to identify girls who are not in school. In each country, UNICEF will work with the government to mobilise new resources, build broad national consensus about the need to get girls into school, and help improve schools themselves to make them more welcoming to girls.

UNICEF has chosen a manageable number of countries and based its selection on criteria that looked for countries with one or more of the following: low enrolment rates for girls; gender gaps of more than 10% in primary education enrolment; countries with more than one million girls out of school; countries included on the World Bank’s Education For All Fast Track Initiative; and countries hard hit by a range of crises that affect school opportunities for girls, such as HIV/AIDS and conflict.


For further information please contact:

Margherita Amodeo, UNICEF Regional Office for Western and Central Africa, +221 869 5842
Moumouni Sanogo, UNICEF Burkina Faso, +226 301 465
Allison Hickling, UNICEF New York, 212 326 7224




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