International Day of the Girl Child: UN urges ‘innovating for girls’ education’

Girls attend class in Za’atari, the world’s second-largest refugee camp. Photo: UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani

11 October 2013 – Marking International Day of the Girl Child, senior United Nations officials today highlighted the power of innovation to get more girls in classrooms and improve the quality of learning for all children.

“To achieve meaningful results, we need fresh solutions to girls’ education challenges and we must heed the voices of young people,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the International Day.

An estimated 31 million primary school aged girls currently miss out on school, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which is leading the UN system’s activities marking the Day.

“Empowering girls, ensuring their human rights and addressing the discrimination and violence they face are essential to progress for the whole human family,” Mr. Ban noted.

The International Day of the Girl Child was designated as 11 October by a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2011, to recognize girls’ rights and highlight the unique challenges girls face worldwide. This year focuses on “innovating for girls’ education.”

Innovation ranges from improving means of transportation for girls to get to school to corporate mentorship programmes to help them acquire critical work and leadership skills and facilitate their transition from school to work, to deploying mobile technology for teaching and learning to reach girls in remote areas.

“Education can transform the lives of girls and strengthen their communities,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Innovation can help us reach every girl by transforming education.”

In Bangladesh, innovative solar-powered floating schools help ensure uninterrupted learning for children living in communities affected by floods and rising sea water.

Meanwhile, in Uganda, girls at some schools have access to a solar-powered Digital Drum, a rugged computer kiosk built into an oil drum and pre-loaded with dynamic multimedia content on health, job training, education opportunities, and other services.

While in South Africa, for example, the TechnoGirls partnership among UNICEF, the Government, and over 100 private sector companies, aims to connect 10,000 adolescent girls with mentors from the tech sector to boost their skills and job readiness in non-traditional jobs, such as water pipe engineering.

“Innovation is giving us powerful new tools to reach and teach more girls than ever before,” said Mr. Lake. “To help more girls go to school, stay in school, and complete their learning, we need to keep learning ourselves, using these new tools, generating new ideas, and scaling up the most promising innovations.”

Empowerment and education of girls is part of the eight anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which the international community aims to reach by the 2015 deadline, as it prepares a new set of global development goals for the post-2015 period.

In addition, education is also a priority for Mr. Ban who last year launched the Global Education First Initiative. Hosted by the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Initiative aims to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning, and foster global citizenship.

UN Special Envoy Gordon Brown has been working with partners to galvanize support for the Initiative, which got an additional boost earlier this year from Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for attending classes. Addressing young people at the UN General Assembly, she urged them to use education as a weapon against extremism.

In a statement today from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a group of UN and regional rights experts proposed key action points for Governments, civil society organizations, the private sector and global policymakers to give all the “Malalas” in the world a better future through education.

“The exclusion of girls from the education system carries too high a cost to girls themselves, their families and the wider society to be ignored,” the experts stressed calling for swift action to eliminate barriers to girls’ education.

The experts noted that despite a significant reduction in school drop-out figures in developing countries – from 102 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2011 – gender disparity in enrolment at the primary and secondary levels remains high.

The difference is even more striking at the higher levels, the UN noted, especially in certain regions with girls accounting for 55 per cent of the out-of-school population.

They highlighted religious, political, cultural stereotypes or other ideological factors thwarting the right to primary education for girls.

The experts also noted challenges stemming from maternal and reproductive rights, “Barriers to the fuller participation of girls at all levels of education include the burden of care in the household, patriarchal norms that undervalue girls’ education, the threat of sexual violence in and out of school, early and forced marriages and adolescent pregnancies.”

Last night, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) held a gala for the health and dignity of women and girls to highlight that reproductive health and reproductive rights are hard-fought and hard-won, according to the UN agency’s website.

In his address, delivered by UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin, Mr. Ban said the gathering was more than a celebration, “it is a call to action.”

“At this critical moment for international development, let us stay focused on creating a better life for the world’s most vulnerable people,” he said, urging to “push even harder” to reach the MDGs by 2015.

The International Day of the Girl Child is being marked today by events around the world.

In New York, actress Freida Pinto and a group of young activists from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guinea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Sierra Leone, will “erase” the image of child factory workers, revealing a hidden image of students in the classroom.

Also, singer and songwriter Katy Perry is lending her support to the Day with her song “Roar.”

As part of an official visit, Ms. Perry had visited a primary school in Ampihaonana, Madagascar, that had been rebuilt by UNICEF after a cyclone destroyed it in 2011.

In the north-western city of Wau, South Sudan, the Day’s events kicked off with a procession of teachers, female students and pupils, organized by the state Ministry of Education and supported by UNICEF.

The South Sudanese Government, with support from partners, has adopted the Accelerated Learning Programme, which aims to assist girls who had dropped out of school to complete their educations.

The programme also focuses on community mobilization and advocacy, and has been credited for introducing school feeding programmes and provision of child-friendly schools with adequate sanitary facilities as a way of ensuring that girls complete their education.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

More teachers – better trained and supported – needed to reach education targets, UN warns

Related Stories

In-depth Interviews