“Young women aren’t the changemakers of the future, they are the here and now” said GenUN Fellow, Rabita Tareque to a room of civil society representatives, teachers, policy makers, academics and donors at Thursday’s global launch of the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report’s 2018 Gender Review in New York.
“International Women’s Day is an occasion to recall that education is the linchpin for empowering women to build a better world”, stated panellist Nora Fyles, Head of the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) a key partner on the publication. “There has been a lot to celebrate in recent years in terms of ensuring girls do not miss out on education opportunities and we have made huge strides in girls’ education globally since the first GEM Report Gender Review six years ago”.
The event co-hosted by the GEM Report, UNGEI and the Malala Fund was timed to coincide with the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women, a pivotal event on the international human rights calendar.
In his presentation, the Director of the GEM Report Manos Antoninis highlighted the fundamental link between gender equality and education in pushing the development agenda forward. “It is important to recall that advancing equal rights and opportunities between women and men is critical for a sustainable future. This refers to all pillars. Not just social equality but also slowing down the pace of climate change, achieving shared prosperity, and ensuring effective governance – all of which require women’s full participation.”
The event was greeted by the Director of the UNESCO New York office, Marie-Paule Roudil, and a keynote address delivered by H.E. Mr. Jean-Claude Félix do Rego, Permanent Representative of Benin to the United Nations, who referenced Benin’s significant progress in reducing gender disparities in primary education, one of the strongest rates of progress in the world. “Our government has introduced awareness-raising campaigns focused on introducing a better division of domestic tasks between girls and boys and abolished school fees for girls in the first cycle of secondary education as testament to our commitment to gender equality in education”, he explained.
Speaking at the event, the Vice-President of the National Education Association, Becky Pringle, spoke of the importance of female leaders in the spheres of politics and education. The 2018 Gender Review shows that 68% of lower secondary teachers are women, but only 45% of principals. As representative of the United Sates first and largest labour union, Ms Pringle shared her experience of overcoming the institutional barriers that women still face in getting into school leadership positions. She remarked on the importance of the annual Gender Review, which “goes beyond highlighting the obstacles faced by women and girls worldwide, but also offers solutions and best practices to address to meet these challenges”.
An intervention from Karen Sherman, President of the Akilah Institute, a network of female-only post-secondary colleges in Rwanda, reflected on the power in helping women overcome unequal and oppressive social limits and expectations so they can make choices about their lives. She presented the Akilah Institute’s unique model of education working to ensure the next generation of female leaders, entrepreneurs, and community changemakers in East Africa.
Barry Johnston, Associate Director of Advocacy, Malala Fund, pivoted the conversation tohow humanitarian aid neglects girls’ education in countries affected by or emerging from conflict. “Education should be a priority for humanitarian and development donors. However, as we know, the current 4% target is not being achieved.” He also called for more investment to improve current data collection and monitoring frameworks to better address the needs of refugee girls and to improve prioritization and targeting of funding.
The critical importance of global champions to ensure government deliver on commitments to gender equality in education was emphasised by the Malala Fund whose network of local champions advocates passionately to advance the rights of girls to 12 years of quality education.
“We work to amplify girls’ stories in their own words, we believe in these remarkable champions and we’re investing in their work so that every girl can learn and lead without fear.” said Johnston.
The discussion underscored that gender equality, however, is a responsibility of all individuals and it has increasingly been acknowledged that men and boys are also inextricably involved with gender issues and have an important role in efforts to achieve equality. Daniel Seymour, Deputy Director of Programmes at UN Women, underlined that progress towards gender equality will stimulate positive transformations in the lives of both women and men resulting in a better society, and how a systemic issue such as gender-based violence is not an exclusive concern of women but inherently connected with both genders.
Focusing on the theme of accountability for gender equality in education, the panel also emphasized the role and responsibilities of government, teachers, students as well as civil society to strengthen, monitor and prompt faster developments.
“The achievement of the 2030 Agenda depends on the world’s success in creating a level playing field for boys and girls, women and men, in education as in other sectors. Commitments have been made; the task now is to follow through to their fulfilment, by breaking down barriers and making sure that all actors play their part in the endeavour”, Manos Antoninis said, as he closed his presentation.
A final call to action from Rabita Tareque demonstrated the ingenuity, resolve and enthusiasm of young female leaders, a vital component for accelerating momentum towards gender equality and the empowerment of every girl and woman.
Additional launch events organized by GEM Report partners and UNESCO regional and national offices took place in London and Paris, with upcoming events in Ottawa, Nairobi and Brasilia. Such events provide forums to debate and discuss the key findings and recommendations from the 2018 Gender Review and how to strengthen accountability for gender equality in education at the local, national and international level.