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Basic education and gender equality

UNGEI Podcast 3

Poverty, conflict and girls' right to education

Imagen del UNICEF
© UNICEF/NYHQ2003-0043/Noorani
A girl writes on the blackboard during a fifth-grade class in.

In the run-up to the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative and the global conference entitled 'E4 - Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality' to be held in Dakar, Senegal from 17 to 20 May, UNICEF has been featuring a series on girls’ education and gender equality. The following report is part of that series.

By Pi James

New York, USA, 20 May 2010 – More than half of the 72 million primary school-aged children out of school are girls. These children mostly come from the world’s poorest communities and, in many cases, from nations with long histories of conflict.

AUDIO: Listen now

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with Bob Prouty, head of the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative Secretariat, and Suaad Allami, Iraqi lawyer and human rights activist, about the ways poverty affects girls’ and boys’ access to education across the globe.

Barriers to schooling

In the podcast discussion, Mr. Prouty said that the exclusion of girls from schooling is a result of many factors. Poverty, he added, is “highest in line.”

Girls are often put to work around the home or sent out to earn money. “The more the financial challenges are felt by families, the more likely they are to see the opportunities for girls to bring in some additional income,” Mr. Prouty said. The family income lost if girls are not working – coupled in many places with the high direct cost of schooling – is likely to be a major obstacle to educating girls, he said.

Culture and tradition can also play a “big role” in preventing girls from receiving a quality education, added Ms. Allami. In her native Iraq, she said, ”culture is one of the [biggest] challenges to face these girls when they want to continue their studies.”

Conflict: the ‘single biggest’ obstacle

Ms. Allami said she has witnessed significant changes in education levels over the course of her country’s history. In the past, she noted, Iraqi women were highly educated compared with other girls in the region.

“It is not like today,” she said. “[Now] many families prevent their girls from going to schools, to universities – they are concerned about their safety, kidnappings, killings.”

Today literacy rates are low throughout Iraq, especially among women and girls. Violence and 13 years of economic sanctions associated with the wars have made it particularly difficult for girls to receive an education, said Ms. Allami. 

“Conflict disproportionately keeps kids out of school,” Mr. Prouty agreed. “[It is] the single biggest remaining obstacle towards education for all.”

Ms. Prouty also noted that war and other clashes exacerbate the problems of poverty. “Conflict invariably has a larger impact on the poorest families,” he said.

Positive changes

Despite these challenges, Mr. Prouty emphasized that he has also witnessed some positive developments through his work with the Fast Track Initiative.

“We’re seeing very positive movement in terms of parents trying to get their children started in school,” he said.

But in developing countries, girls still drop out of school at higher rates than boys.  As more children – including more girls – are enrolled in school, said Mr. Prouty, an increasingly central challenge will be to keep them there.

“The challenges we see more and more are in trying to get girls through schooling and up into higher levels of school,” he said.

The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) is a partnership dedicated to narrowing the gender gap in education and aims to ensure that all children – girls and boys – have equal access to quality education.  To mark its 10th anniversary, UNGEI is holding a global conference, –“Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality”, in Dakar, Senegal, from 17-20 May. This conference will provide a platform for the global community to reaffirm that girls’ education is a development imperative, and to recommit to securing Education for All by 2015.

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13 May 2010: To commemorate UNGEI's 10th anniversary podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with two guests about the ways poverty affects girls’ and boys’ access to education across the globe.
AUDIO listen

Related links

Beyond access: Quality education for life
with audio

Breaking the silence on gender-based violence in schools
with audio

UNICEF's work in achieving equal access to education


Sitio de La Iniciativa de las Naciones Unidas para la Educación de las Niñas
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