UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the Transforming Education Summit: Advancing Gender Equality Through Education
NEW YORK, 19 September 2022 - "Excellencies, colleagues,
"I am very glad to join you today to present the Call to Action on Advancing Gender Equality and Girls’ and Women’s Empowerment in and through Education.
"I want to start by acknowledging our partners for this event, France, Nigeria, and Yemen, as well as UNESCO, the UN Girls’ Education Initiative -- which UNICEF proudly hosts -- and Plan International.
"I would also like to thank the co-leads of Action Track 1, the Governments of Namibia and Italy, and the SDG4Youth Network. UNICEF is privileged to be working alongside all of you
"This Call to Action is grounded in a powerful premise: That putting gender equality at the heart of education can transform lives and futures.
"Gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment is close to my heart and at the center of my professional career. And they are truly central to all our development goals.
"In my previous roles and certainly now, as UNICEF Executive Director, I see this again and again.
"When girls and women have an equal opportunity to learn, to participate, and to lead -- and when education supports gender equality for all -- communities and societies prosper.
"We all use the word transformative a lot – not only at this historic Summit. But in this case, the evidence is undeniable. Gender equality is transformative.
"This Call to Action is a blueprint for helping achieve that transformational shift in education.
"First, we are calling on governments to invest more in data and evidence -- and to use it more strategically. That means disaggregating data to see the impact of gender and how it intersects with other characteristics -- like disability, ethnicity, and economic status. We also need to use data to measure changes in norms, attitudes, and practices.
"Second, we need to transform education policy and education financing – explicitly including actions to advance gender equality in sector plans, programmes, and budget allocations.
"In recent years we have seen real progress. More governments are developing gender-responsive education sector plans -- and targeting investment to close gender gaps, with a focus on reaching the most marginalized girls.
"Third, we need to transform learning environments. If we want girls, boys, and children -- in all their diversity -- to stay in school and learn, we must ensure that schools are safe, inclusive learning spaces for every child.
"For example, improving water, sanitation, and menstrual hygiene services can make a big difference in retaining girls in school.
"And we need to do much more to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in and around schools.
"Other shifts, including school meals and services to support health and well-being, can help ensure that all girls – and all children – are ready to learn, especially those who are living in fragile settings.
"Fourth, we need to transform teaching and learning. Eliminating gender biases and stereotypes from teaching and learning materials will help break entrenched norms that limit girls and boys. So will equipping teachers and learners with training and tools so they can promote gender equality.
"Transforming teaching and learning also means achieving gender equality in the educator workforce -- at all professional levels. As we see in countries like Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, and Yemen, female teachers are critical in reaching all girls with education, wherever they are.
"And all teachers should be fairly compensated and given the training and support they need to do their jobs – especially those working in the most challenging settings.
"Fifth, we need to transform how we engage with – and empower – children and young people to ensure that their education meets their aspirations.
"Everything we do at UNICEF, we do for – and with – children and young people. They have a right to be heard and to have their voices represented in decisions that concern them at every level – at home, in school, in the workplace, and in the corridors of power.
"To paraphrase the words of Shamah Bulangis, co-Chair of Transform Education, we aren’t listening to young people so we can feel good about ourselves. We are listening because they can help us change the norms and institutions that hold them back.
"We need to invest in helping them build their skills and their capacity to lead – and fund their work to help shape education for the better.
"Sixth, we need to transform our engagement with stakeholders – supporting stronger coordination and broadening our collaborations across sectors.
"This work engages us all – in education ministries and civil society, in grassroots youth organizations and gender rights groups, in the private sector and the international community.
"We need to do more to leverage our comparative advantages and individual strengths to advance gender equality both in and through education.
"Finally, we need to transform ourselves. This means expanding institutional and human capacity, so education sector staff have the knowledge and tools to embed gender transformation in all their work.
"And it means promoting women’s leadership at the highest levels of education administration.
"Transforming ourselves also means holding ourselves accountable for achieving results.
"UNICEF is working with several governments and many partners to establish a global platform that will monitor progress against commitments. It will also highlight gaps in service provision and financing and draw on the latest evidence and ideas to drive innovation. We invite other partners to join this critical effort to drive transformative leadership and accountability.
"The stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines. We call on you today not only to join this effort, but to help lead this effort. Together, we can achieve gender equality and empower girls and women -- and transform education for every child.