Focus first on education, especially for girls, say leaders at Davos

Lys Anzia – WNN Breaking Commentary

School girl in Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Young 11-year-old Ruksana attends school with other girls in Kolkata, West Bengal, India in a clip from the film “Girl Rising” written by screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala. Attending school even though she spends her life part-time on the streets and part-time at night in a shelter with her family is not so uncommon in the region. Image: Dyu D’Cunha/10X10 – Girl Rising

(WNN) Davos, SWITZERLAND, WESTERN EUROPE: With almost 700 days left before the deadline for the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon brought global advocacy for girls into the discussion at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland yesterday during an MDG Advocacy Group event. His statements were made for a luncheon co-hosted with the Office of the UN Secretary General and EEA – Education Above All, along with attending members from the UN Foundation, UNICEF, and other business, civil and humanitarian partners. EAA which is based in Qatar launched in 2012 to provide, as they describe, a level of “educational quality” for the world’s 57 million out-of-school children.

Publicly dedicating the last part of his term at the UN toward what he has described as “the empowerment of women and girls,” Secretary Ban talked about being a bit tired from his travels after just arriving at the Forum at Davos. But he was buoyant as he spoke to the MDG Advocacy group, and others, attending the luncheon as he said, “This is a very important subject for me.”

Too often those who stand at the very end of the line for education, especially in regions like Afghanistan, are girl-children. In Sub-Saharan Africa 4 out of 5 girls receive little-to-no education. Other nations that rate at the bottom of the scale for educating girls include Burkina Faso, Yemen, Mali and Chad, where a majority of girls, including girls in Afghanistan, only average one year of school attendance within their lifetime.

“Education can transform individual lives, and also economic outcomes for communities and nations,” said the lead for a Special Convoy for Education Above All, H.E. Dr. Abdullah Al-Kubaisi, who is also the Director of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, during his attendance at the luncheon.

“When you invest in a girl’s education, she feeds herself, her children, her community and her nation, charting a path towards a better world in which human rights are respected and there is dignity for all.  That is why delivering education to all girls is so vital,” said MDG Advocacy Group Co-chair Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway.

Girls in Pakistan have also suffered limitations on their education, but the rates for girls education in the region is beginning to improve, especially for girls who are attending middle school and go on to attend secondary school. But getting and keeping girls in primary school in Pakistan is not happening fast enough, say advocates.

The chipping away of girls’ schools by members of the Taliban, actions widely condemned in Pakistan, who brand schools for girls as “Western forms of education,” has been one of the modern driving forces that continue to work to shut down numerous schools that focus on attendance for girls in the Fata, Swat and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions, says Pakistani education expert and former dean and professor with the Faculty of Education at the University of Punjab Dr. Hafiz Muhammad Iqbal.

“…the lowest literacy and enrollment rates are observed in the female population in Balochistan,” outlined Dr. Iqbal. “…Pakistan was expected to achieve full gender equality in primary enrollment ratio as well as youth literacy by the year 2015. However, literacy figures recently released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reveal that [the] absolute number of female illiterates has risen from 31,101,011 in 2005 to 32,106,848 in 2009. That is, about one million females were added to the illiterate lot,” Dr. Iqbal continued.

“If the same trend is continued, this will be in total defiance of the MDGs and Pakistan will never be able to achieve the MDGs’ targets, particularly in the case of the female population,” added Dr. Iqbal.

The case of Malala Yousufzai, who was almost fatally shot at the age-of-15 after she spoke up as a strong advocate for Pashtun girls in the Swat region of Pakistan, has actually produced a silver lining as The Malala Fund has now been created through partnership with the United Nations to bring action and financial supporters together to increase global girls’ education. But there is still a lot to do.

Over half a billion girls worldwide today are currently being ‘held back’ by poverty, marginalization, discrimination and violence. Success for global girls is key to reaching the goals for the Millennium Development that was set by the United Nations back in the year 2000. Understanding the reasons girls’ education is so often not completed is key to reaching solutions that can be sustainable. It is proven that once a girl is educated her life, and the life of all those around her, are changed forever.

Improvements spanning the issues of hunger, disease, healthcare and the empowerment of women and girls, have helped the 8 Millennium Development Goals reach levels of undeniable success, especially with the latest medical advances in treatments for HIV/AIDS in Africa. But goals specific to gender equality and empowerment have continued to lag behind terribly as the most obvious reason for adolescent girl drop-out rates keep rolling along.

“Today I urge you to keep girls at the centre of all of your strategies. This is a challenge to do business better. It is a chance to change your institutions so they reflect more enlightened attitudes about girls and include strategies to improve their lives…,” continued Secretary Ban.

Adolescent girls, especially those who become pregnant and/or get married before the age-of-18 most often don’t stay in school. Juggling children as well as husbands at the same time prevents many girls from being able to spend the time in school. This fact, that points to the need to stop child marriage, is true even in developed countries like the United States. It can be seen in part in my own case as I quit college too soon when I married only a few months after turning the age-of-19, only to re-enter secondary school years later to study communications and radio broadcast journalism.

“Across the world today, over 57 million children are unable to go to school. Whether it is due to poverty, conflict, natural disaster or even prejudice, these young people are being denied their fundamental right to learn,” outlined EAA founder and First Lady of Qatar, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser on the EAA project website Educate a Child at the launch of the initiative. “Those still deprived of an education are the hardest to reach, in the most persistently difficult circumstances, from urban slums to refugee camps. Reaching these children requires ingenuity as well as investment,” she continued.

“It requires commitment and determination,” added Her Highness.

Girls of all ages deserve the full attention of those leaders who have been attending the World Economic Forum at Davos. And it can be considered an emergency.

Each day approximately 39,000 girls marry too early, outlined UNICEF in March 2013.

At the end of the 2015 deadline, the Millennium Development Goals will have gathered 193 member states (nations) to meet challenges that have plagued some nations for over 2 centuries. With over half a billion girls who are separated from their dreams due to lack of financial resources, missing government policies and programs that lack a gender focus to treat the real reasons they have missing girls in schools continue. Lack of investment power by those who’s pockets are deep enough to make a substantial difference, are highly relevant as doable solutions can be at arms reach.

“Investors tend to rate opportunities based on their potential for returns. The United Nations gives girls a gold rating. When you invest in their future, you are guaranteed results that multiply across society – on health, education, peace and the welfare of future generations,” continued Secretary Ban during the MDG Advocacy Group luncheon.

Every year a girl stays in primary school boosts her lifetime of wages rise up to 20 per cent, and “women and girls reinvest the vast majority of their income – 90 per cent – back into their families,” outlined Secretary Ban. When female education goes up, so does economic growth, he emphasized.

“When we support girls, they reward society with enormous contributions in creativity, compassion and – yes – girl power,” he added as the room applauded.


For more information on this topic see the 2013 World Bank/ICPD – International Conference on Population and Development report “Messages and Preliminary Findings – From the ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Review – June 24, 2013” and Canada’s National Post/Financial Post story “Education Above All Calls for New Investment to Accelerate Support for Primary Education.”


As a human rights journalist with a career that began in public radio broadcasting through an internship at Pacifica radio station WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C., WNN founder Lys Anzia has a strong dedication in bringing the highest quality journalism available to the public. In addition to Anzia’s featured stories on WNN, her written and editorial work can also be seen on WUNRN – Women’s UN Report Network, Vital Voices, Women’s Media Center, World Bank and UNESCO publications, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Reliefweb, The Guardian News Development Network and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, among others.

Currently WNN’s in-depth stories on women from 6 separate global regions can be found online in over 5 million separate Google search pages monthly.


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