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UNICEF urges: No more broken promises on girls' education

New Strategy Presented to Accelerate Education for All in Countries Where Progress is Lagging

BRASILIA, 8 November 2004 – Acknowledging that HIV/AIDS, conflict and deepening poverty have eroded gains in enrolling more girls in school in many countries, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy today called on nations to respect promises made to ensure that girls and boys receive the same educational opportunities. Bellamy outlined a strategy to achieve a “radical breakthrough” in these countries.

“Experience shows us that the usual pattern of planning and investment will not do the trick,” Bellamy said, speaking here at the high-level meeting on Education for All convened annually by UNESCO and partners.  “We must not allow the promise of education for all to become another broken promise,” she said.  ”We come up with a plan of action to make a radical breakthrough in countries where efforts are failing, and we must implement them as rapidly as possible.”

UNICEF said that eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 is an essential step toward education for all children, and will be the first test of the Millennium Development Goals, agreed to by all the UN Member States in 2000. Worldwide, 121 million primary-school-age children are currently denied schooling. More than half of them are girls.

“All children have a right to schooling and all the opportunity that education provides,” Bellamy said. “Children must no longer be denied an education simply because they are girls, or live in rural communities, or are from poor families or belong to minority population groups.”

Bellamy said that investment and assistance for education has not been enough to sustain gains made during the 1990s in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. And new challenges -- such as HIV/AIDS, civil conflicts and natural disasters, as well as deepening poverty -- have emerged to erode these gains and put the 2005 goal of gender parity out of reach for some of the countries that had been doing well.

Bellamy outlined a specific five-point action agenda:

  • Sending supplies and services to those countries where enrolment levels have been stagnating for decades.
  • Urging governments to abolish school fees and other costs where deepening poverty combines with a rising populating of children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.  
  • Establishing standards for quality experiences and quality learning as an integral part of the new education systems, so we do not have to continue fixing schools without water or toilets, schools that do not provide the necessary resources for teachers and learners, or schools that fail to create a welcoming environment for quality learning. 
  • In countries that are sliding towards crisis, are actually in a state of emergency, or in transition from emergency to development anticipating and pre-empting crisis, as well as addressing emergencies and dealing with post-conflict situations.
  • Identifying countries which appear to be doing well but in which national averages mask pockets of serious discrimination; and give rise to complacency in the form of wider gender discrimination in society.  These countries need more in terms of quality education and empowerment of girls and women.

UNICEF focuses strategically on pushing to get girls in school because when the barriers facing girls are lowered, getting into and starting in school is easier for all children.
Educating girls is the best way to ensure that they will have a healthier, fuller life and that countries will develop. It is the most effective tool to tackle such problems as infant and maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, child trafficking and exploitation.

Bellamy participated in the international meeting convening Ministers of Education, international co-operation, heads of development agencies and civil society representatives.

Since 2002, UNICEF has placed the achievement of gender parity in primary and secondary education at the top of its list of priorities.  In 25 countries, the agency has carried out an intensive acceleration campaign to find new resources, build broad national consensus about the need to get all girls into school, and help improve schools themselves to make them more welcoming to both girls and boys.  The countries represent 64 per cent the out-of-school children.

UNICEF is the lead agency in the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, which was launched by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in April 2000.  UNGEI’s goal is to narrow the gender gap in education by 2005 and ensure that by 2015 all children will be able to complete primary school and boys and girls have equal access to all levels of education.  The UNGEI partnership embraces the UN system, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and communities and families.

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For further information, please contact:

Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, Tel:  + 212 326 7452    




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