Say Yes, Summer 2003: Editorial

Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director © UNICEF/HQ-1893

Carol Bellamy
UNICEF Executive Director
© UNICEF/HQ-1893

There is no more important single issue on UNICEF’s agenda today than education for girls and my visit here is an opportunity to commend Turkey for its role in promoting ‘Girls’ Education’, a campaign begun by the staff of UNICEF Turkey in partnership with the Government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector.

The theme of girls’ education harmonises perfectly with a new drive launched in İstanbul called Leave No Child Out. It envisions a world in which no child is discriminated against or excluded, like the 120 million children around the world who are not in school -- the majority of them girls.

It is a vision that begins with the recognition that education is the right of all children -- and the obligation of all governments, its primacy proclaimed by agreements ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Fulfilling the right of every girl to a quality basic education is the key to promoting true equality between boys and girls and men and women.

But education, especially for girls, is also smart economics. Only education can equip girls with the confidence to make the most of their abilities; that can provide a means for changing attitudes about violence while promoting equality; and that can put young women on a path to economic and social empowerment.

Educated girls grow into educated women -- women who are more likely to participate in making decisions that affect their lives and the lives of those they love. And they are more likely to be healthy, to have smaller families, and to have healthier and better-educated children.

To reach our goals for girls’ education, we need strong national leadership, unshakeable political commitment, generous financial support - and an all-out attack on the factors that help sustain gender discrimination and violence: poverty, ignorance, and inequity.

At the same time, we must address the catastrophic effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on educational systems and other vital institutions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. And we must ensure that children get the early childhood care and nurturing that is vital if their minds and bodies are to be equal to the demands of learning.

At the United Nations Special Session on Children (UNSSC) last May, world leaders reaffirmed the goal of achieving universal girls’ education by 2015. But to bring that goal within reach, governments agreed that a number of countries would need an extra "push" out of the starting gate. And so a decision was made to launch a major drive to close the gender gap in education by 2005.

The objective is for Turkey and 24 other countries to make girls’ enrolment equal to boys’ by the target year, using a combination of increased resources and active partnerships involving governments, multilateral agencies like UNICEF, voluntary progressive groups -- and above all, local communities, schools and families.

Turkey has made considerable progress in promoting education for girls since 1997. But ensuring that girls get the quality basic education that is their right involves more than enrolling them in classes. Just as children must be prepared for school, so we must ensure that schools are ready for children.

Schools must provide relevant curricula and adequate learning materials. Teachers must be well trained to encourage children to participate actively and think critically. And schools must have adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities, health and nutrition services, and policies that guarantee children’s health and safety.

During my visit to Turkey, I learned of the Child-Friendly Learning Environment programme, which aims to make school a more enriching experience for children through a more relevant curriculum, better physical conditions -- and more parent-student interaction.

The understanding and cooperation of parents is vital to the success of the Girls’ Education campaign. It is especially hard for impoverished families to send their daughters to school when they are needed to help with household and farming chores or to work outside the home for extra income. But it is up to all of us to show parents why it is in their own best interest to see that their daughters finish their compulsory education and perhaps even go on to college and beyond. The dream of universal girls’ education is still just that -- a dream. But I am convinced that we will make it come true. The proof is in the partnerships that are already at work -- among parents and teachers, village councils, local authorities, national governments, and the bilateral and multilateral community, including UNICEF Turkey and our Regional Office, which stand ready to help in any way.

And to all Turkish girls, I say: Haydi Kızlar Okula!


Carol Bellamy
UNICEF Executive Director

Note: Carol Bellamy launched Leave No Child Out in İstanbul on June 16th and Haydi Kızlar Okula! the Girls’ Education Campaign in Turkey in Van on June 17th, 2003.

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