The International Day of the Girl Child, celebrated annually from this year on October 11th, is an opportunity for EI and teachers’ unions to harness their advocacy and programmatic work to enhance the rights of the girl child.
Educating girls can make the difference between life and death, between freedom and different forms of slavery.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2011 to establish 11 October each year as the International Day of the Girl Child. Although issues related to the girl child are prominent in international human rights declarations, treaties and conventions, the UN decision to devote a specific day to the girl child will help, over time, to increase public awareness about the rights of girls, as well as highlight issues related to their education, and stimulate an effective advocacy strategy. Education International’s (EI) policy on the girl child derives from its 1998 resolution, which calls for teacher unions’ action to promote and protect girls’ rights. It also calls for unions to increase awareness of the needs and potential of girls and to work to eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development, and training.
Why a Girl Child Day?
The Education for All framework and the Millennium Development Goals provide tools for governments to overcome the inequalities which affect women and girls, particularly those from disadvantaged groups (including migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, women with disabilities, young women at risk of [sexual] violence and trafficking, and young girls enslaved in domestic work).
The majority of out-of-school children in the world are girls, and these numbers are much higher in rural and indigenous areas. More than 500 million women (64%) are illiterate (UNESCO, 2012). In 2011, 6.9 million children died before their fifth birthday (UNICEF, 2012). On average, only one out of two Roma children attend kindergarten or school (FRA, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights). There are 215 million child labourers working in the formal sector. However, this does not include girls involved in domestic work because those statistics are hard to obtain (ILO, 2006). Only 60 out of 187 stateshave a minimum age for entering employment, and even fewer have a minimum age for marriage (often a cause for girls leaving their education). Nearly half of all sexual assaults worldwide are against girls of 15 years and younger, which amounts to 6,000 girls being abused daily. Two million girls a year undergo female genital mutilation (Right to Education Project, 2011).
Teacher unions’ advocacy to improve opportunities and rights of the girl child
EI advocates for Quality Universal Public Services, in particular education that is free, universally accessible, compulsory, child-friendly, and relevant. This includes secondary as well as primary education, at least up to the minimum age of work. Quality Education means that children are taught by a caring qualified teacher, in classes of a reasonable size, with multiple texts and learning resources in proper classrooms.
In the coming years, the International Day of the Girl Child will provide additional opportunities for EI and teacher unions to affirm the position that education is a key instrument in improving the future for the girl child. It will also be another occasion to condemn practices that perpetuate discrimination against girls (such as early marriage, early childbearing, reduced food and nutritional allocations, lack of access to health services, gender violence, actions that weaken self-esteem, sexual exploitation, and harmful cultural practices such as genital mutilation).
EI urges governments to protect women and their children through the current worldwide economic crisis and, thereby, honour their obligations to the girl child and to her teachers.
This means allocating more (not fewer) resources for:
- Pre-service and in-service training for teachers and health workers to fully prepare them for dealing with challenges such as violence and bullying
- Accessing health services and providing comprehensive sex education
- Addressing gender stereotypes
- Introducing gender equality and gender issues into the curriculum
- Preventing violence against girls and women
- Achieving safe schools for all (girls and boys, female and male teachers)
- Increasing enrolment of girls in maths, science, technology and other male-dominated courses
It also means equal and, thus, improved wages and working conditions for female teachers, and equal opportunities for women to rise to leadership and management positions in the education system, in society, as well as within unions.
EI and its members urge all member states of the United Nations to honour their many commitments from the UN Beijing Platform for Acton (1995) to the Education for All framework (EFA, Dakar 2000) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG, 2000), which all include the right to education for all as an achievable human right.
Teacher unions, in their advocacy with Governments and intergovernmental institutions, should address the specific barriers that prevent all girls from successfully completing education. Hunger, poverty, increased unemployment, and lack of care for the sick in the family keep girls at home. Cutbacks in education lead to fewer well-trained teachers, larger classes, and less safe schools. The challenges are many.
Safe travelling from home to school, a non-violent culture within schools and communities, inclusive schools, a gender-sensitive curriculum including health education and life skills, a teaching attitude designed to encourage girls: all these and many more are known solutions to get girls into and to keep them in schools.