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Universal quality education impossible without upholding girls’ and young people’s rights

24 September 2014
Author: UNFPA
Universal quality education impossible without upholding girls’ and young people’s rights
Students attend class in a school in Harar, Ethiopia. Photo credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

UNITED NATIONS, New York – Gender equality and the rights of young people are essential requirements for delivering quality education to all, said heads of state, leading education advocates and United Nations principals at a high-level event held at the UN today, during the 69th session of the UN General Assembly.

The event, called ‘Quality Education for the World We Want’, was organized by the Global Education First Initiative. It focused on the issues that keep adolescents from school, worsening their own prospects and those of future generations.

“Something very important is at stake – the future,” said the event’s host, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.

Equality is step one

Girls have achieved parity with boys in primary education in a majority of countries, an enormous accomplishment, but they lag behind in secondary education.

The reasons for this are rooted in gender inequality. In many parts of the world, girls are pulled from school when they are deemed old enough to be married, a stage of life sometimes marked by female genital mutilation (FGM). Both child marriage and FGM are violations of girls’ rights.

“We cannot deliver education unless we can find a solution for child marriage,” said the UN’s Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown.

Other times, families choose to educate their sons but not their daughters, believing their daughters should perform domestic chores instead.

But “the real challenge isn’t just about resources, it’s about attitudes and beliefs,” United States First Lady Michelle Obama said at the event.

“We cannot talk about quality education for adolescent girls or hope to make meaningful and lasting progress on this issue unless we’re willing to have a much bigger and bolder conversation about how women are viewed and treated in the world today,” she added.

Investing in girls

President of the Republic of Korea Park Geun-hye underlined the need to invest in young people's education to enable them to fulfil their potential.

She attributed her own country’s economic success to investments in education.

In developing countries, such investments would yield enormous returns – universal quality education would unleash the potential of the largest generation of young people the world has ever known.

“For $6 billion, we could make the biggest advance over next 15 months and be as close as you can be to every boy and girl being at school,” Mr. Brown said.

Following the remarks, the heads of state, ministers and representatives present committed to work towards achieving universal access to quality education.

Empowering girls with education

UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, is an active member of the Steering Committee of the Global Education First Initiative.

UNFPA programmes, such as the Action for Adolescent Girls initiative, teach girls about their right to an education, and help them stand up against abuses such as child marriage and FGM.

And through a $200 million partnership with the World Bank, UNFPA is promoting increased investment in education, particularly education for girls.

– Eddie Wright