On the Launch of the Girls' Education Movement (GEM)
Kampala, Uganda, 15 August 2001
President Museveni, Excellencies, Colleagues, Friends.
I am extremely pleased to be here at the launch of the Girls' Education Movement - GEM - and to participate in this conference. Let me begin by expressing my deep appreciation to the Government of Uganda, to the Forum for African Women Educationalists and, of course, to the girls who are here to share their opinions, ideas and stories. This conference, with its focus on the first-hand testimony of these young people, is based on their genuine participation in the issues that concern them. I look forward to hearing what they have to say.
I am delighted that the Platform of Action adopted at this conference will be delivered personally by you, President Museveni, to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in New York next month. The Session is a unique opportunity to chart a new course for child well-being and I am thrilled that you will highlight the vital issue of girls' education.
In study after study, girls' education emerges as the single best investment that any society can make. Educated girls become educated women - women who participate in the social, economic and political life of their nation. They are more likely to be healthy, to have smaller families and to have healthy and educated children.
But education is more than a good investment. It is a human right guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by virtually every country in the world. In Dakar last year, the international community set itself precise and achievable goals to ensure that right. Every government committed itself to eradicating gender disparities in education by 2005 and to achieving Education for All by 2015.
To reach these goals, each government is drawing up an Education for All National Plan by the end of 2002 - less than 18 months away. Unless those plans address gender disparity from the outset, the long-term goal will be beyond our grasp.
GEM will galvanise action for the achievement of these goals, and - make no mistake - there is much to do. In Africa, there are 24 million girls out of primary school. And in 22 African countries, boys outnumber girls in primary school by at least five percentage points. In countries besieged by HIV/AIDS, the very fact that girls do not go to school can be life-threatening. More than 40 per cent of women without education have no knowledge of AIDS, compared to 8 per cent of women with post-primary schooling.
But Africa is also full of examples of the strong partnerships, political commitment and sustained collaboration that will help us make the quantum leap to Education for All. Our host country, Uganda, provides a tremendous example of leadership in this area with its policy of free primary education and its emphasis on gender parity. Another example of leadership comes from Malawi. When the country made primary education free in 1994, net enrolment surged from less than 50 per cent to more than 80 per cent.
Over the years, I have seen, at first hand, the efforts being made by parents and teachers, village councils and local authorities, governments and the international community, and by children and young people themselves in support of girls' education.
In a makeshift classroom in a displaced-persons camp in Liberia, I saw the pride of a young girl as she showed me a story she had just written. In Chad, girls' enrolment has tripled in communities where special efforts are being made to overcome prejudice against female schooling. In Benin, older girls mentor younger girls to keep them focused on their studies. In Zambia, the Government and its partners have developed a checklist for Girl-friendly Schools. I have seen the new confidence of Zambian girls as they learn about HIV/AIDS and arm themselves against it with judgement and self-assurance.
UNICEF is proud to have been a partner in such activities through the African Girls' Education Initiative, launched in 15 countries in 1995. Today, with major financial backing from Norway, the Initiative is working in 34 countries across the continent, supporting thousands of schools. The African Initiative is a contribution to the overall work of the UN Girl's Education Initiative. While UNICEF is honoured to lead the UN Initiative, it can only succeed if backed by solid national commitments.
Such commitments must recognise that girls' education is not just about access. We must also ensure good quality education, so that once a girl goes to school, she stays in school and she learns.
This means supporting community-based schools so that no girl risks her safety travelling miles to and from school. It means creating schools that are child-friendly, where every girl feels secure and welcome. And it means support for curriculum reform, gender sensitisation and training to ensure that girls get the most out of every hour they spend in the classroom.
Reaching the 2015 target of Education for All will require additional resources, but, more importantly, it will require the creation of new and dynamic partnerships at every level, backed by vision and long-term commitment. That is why UNICEF is working to mobilise governments and citizens of every nation - families, communities, organizations and children and adolescents themselves - in a Global Movement for Children: a world-wide campaign to build a sense of shared responsibility for the well-being of every child based on partnership and on participation.
On behalf of UNICEF, I pledge my full support to the Girls' Education Movement and to Education for All in Africa.