Beyond 2015: Putting girls’ education at the heart of the agenda

published 11 March 2014 updated 17 March 2014

“Which government is prepared to tell a girl that she will never be able to go to school, and neither will her children or her grandchildren, but, if she is very lucky, her great-grandchild might be the first girl of her family to go to school?” asked EI President Susan Hopgood. She was one of the panellists at a side event to the 58th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW58) on 10 March 2014 that focused on putting girls’ education at the heart of the post-2015 agenda.

The event called for urgent action to ensure quality education for all girls. With less than a year left until 2015, the target date of the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) and Education for All (EFA) Goals, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) has analysed the data from the latest edition of UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report(GMR) from a gender perspective. The analysis shows that being a girl remains an educational disadvantage. In 2011, 31 million girls were out of school and more than half of them will never go to school. In fact, if recent trends continue, the poorest girls in Sub-Saharan Africa will have to wait until 2086 for universal primary education, and until 2111 for universal secondary education.

Lives at stake

All panellists agreed that the ultimate aim of eradicating poverty through the adoption of a new sustainable development framework will not be achieved unless all girls have access to quality education. In her presentation of the Gender Summary, Pauline Rose, Director of the EFA GMR, said that more than three million lives would be saved if all girls had access to quality secondary education.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, emphasised the point that education systems do not outperform their teachers, they reflect the capabilities of their teachers. The Gender summary of the GMR highlighted four strategies regarding teachers: more teachers need to be recruited, trained, assigned to schools in even the remotest areas, and offered incentives to retain them in the profession. Working with teachers and their unions was highlighted as good practice for governments with regard to developing inclusive curricula.

Education as a stand-alone goal post-2015

Education is the beginning and the end of achieving gender equality, said Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, and stressed that there has to be a stand-alone goal on education in the new development framework. She also highlighted the need to go beyond primary education and focus on adolescent girls, and she mentioned the need to hold governments accountable for the provision of quality education.

In her concluding remarks, Susan Hopgood stressed the need for governments to commit to education financing and targeted efforts for girls’ education. She underlined that free, public quality education is the only way of ensuring girls’ right to education.

The priority theme of UNCSW58 is a review of progress on the MDGs for women and girls. It is now clear that the MDGs will not be met within the next year, so all advocacy efforts are focused on influencing the content of a post-2015 agenda. This side event was, therefore, strategic in placing girls’ education squarely at the heart of the new sustainable framework.

EI is advocating a stand-alone goal on universal free quality education in the post-2015 framework. Please find EI’s proposed education goal here.