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Girls’ Education and Gender Equality: Looking forward to 2015 By Dr Nitya Rao
The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) C0-Chair
It is heartening that the Nobel Committee has awarded the 2011 Peace Prize to three women who have tirelessly campaigned for peace and democracy. These new laureates join a small group of just 15 women in the 110-year history of the prize. One of the winners, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, virtually rebuilt her country following 14 years of civil war. During the war, teachers fled and an entire generation missed out on an education. President Sirleaf began her programme of reconstruction by introducing free schooling, and since 2005 the enrolment of girls has increased by 40 per cent. She also introduced tougher anti-rape laws to protect women from sexual crimes. Throughout her work, her priority has been to empower women in all areas of life.
For girls and women, education is a key building block in the process of empowerment. Along with equal economic opportunities and use of productive assets, equal representation in decision-making bodies, and freedom from drudgery, violence and coercion, it is an essential ingredient in achieving gender equality. Over the last year, UNGEI has worked to promote a focus on gender equality in educational processes. Even more importantly, it has advocated for positive policy changes at all levels by strengthening effective multi-stakeholder partnerships. One such partnership, with the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE), resulted in the 2010 publication of Gender, Equality and Education: A report card on South Asia. The report concludes that achieving gender equality requires a multi-pronged approach: In addition to increasing girls’ enrolment, retention and achievement in school, it is also necessary to establish responsive and relevant educational processes that enable girls and women to use their abilities and rights to make strategic life choices.
The case of Sri Lanka, which the Report Card examines in the context of the challenges posed by post-conflict reconstruction, shows that a little education is not enough. To ensure that children at all levels have access to high-quality education – as is the aim of the country’s policy of free education for all children up to university – expenditures on education must be sustained over a long period of time. In Bangladesh, where the gender gap now favours girls, huge strides have been made towards universal school enrolment. Yet poor quality continues to hamper progress in education. The situation is similar in India, despite that country’s commitment to education as a right for all children. Quality education is not cheap – but its absence denies many girls their only opportunity to develop basic skills and secure their rights. Because of cultural and ideological factors relating to honour, reputation and marriage prospects, girls may be less able than boys to take advantage of alternative learning opportunities, such as apprenticeship or other vocational training, which may involve staying away from home for considerable periods of time. Threats to the safety and security of both children and teachers may also pose a serious challenge, as demonstrated by the cases of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
ASPBAE launched the Report Card at public events in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The publication has sparked discussion in the local media as well as among academics, civil society actors and policymakers. In Nepal – which is exceptional in South Asia in that its new constitution provides for the proportional representation of women in Parliament – the Minister of Education and four members of the Constituent Assembly attended the launch and called for the implementation of a 12-point proposal put forward by the All Party Network for Girls’ Education, thereby acknowledging the need for changes in educational policies and implementation in order to meet gender equality goals. At the Pakistan launch, representatives of civil society, along with the Department of Social Welfare and the National Commission for Human Development, pressed the Government to provide high-quality education for girls and women. The report has now been translated into Urdu and has been widely distributed in four provinces of the country – suggesting that regional and sub-regional interventions and advocacy can help spur changes at the national and local levels.
The critical potential of the Report Card for awareness raising and advocacy, as well as the insights to be gleaned from its analysis, have inspired similar exercises in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Because the local context is pivotal in shaping and defining both social norms and the educational agenda, indicators are being discussed and specified locally in each case. The enthusiasm generated by this exercise and the commitment to move it forward leave us with some hope as we move closer to 2015. Gender equality is ultimately not about merely getting girls into school – it is about social change, peace, justice, mutual respect and above all recognition of equal rights.
The White House Office of Public Engagement and the White House Council on Women and Girls hosted members of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), an initiative launched in coordination with the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The program was created a year ago toadvance women's leadership and to grow women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs)...Women entrepreneurs, representing 40 sub-Saharan African countries, engaged in a dialogue with Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, Gene Sperling, Director of the White House National Economic Council, and Ana Harvey, Assistant Administrator at the US Small Business Association on ways to develop and foster stronger business partnerships between Africa and the United States. The discussion also centered on the Administration’s efforts to foster the increased participation of women entrepreneurs in Africa as well as in the United States.
During the meeting, Tina Tchen the importance of small businesses, noting that “during these difficult economic times, small businesses are the engines that create jobs.” She discussed efforts of the Obama Administration to increase women’s access to capital so they can continue to grow their own businesses. To underscore President Obama’s commitment to empowering women and girls around the globe, Tchen mentioned the new Declaration on Women’s Participation that the United States signed last month, and that we will be announcing steps we are taking to break down economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls.
Gene Sperling discussed the importance of accessibility to business education for underserved communities, and touched upon several programs that are designed to support women in that regard. He urged these women to share their expertise with us, recognizing that they are pioneers in their efforts to provide emerging women business leaders and entrepreneurs the tools, resources and skills to prosper and generate greater job growth.
Ana Harvey, Assistant Administrator for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women's Business Ownership, expressed that although the Small Business Administration is a domestic agency, they rely heavily on existing institutions to provide resources for developing small businesses. Harvey urged the group to look at this approach as a model when reaching out to other emerging entrepreneurs.
It was encouraging to witness the determination and resolve of the AWEP participants, as it demonstrates the progress that can be made when women are equipped with the skills and resources to become change agents in the global economic area and in their own communities. This determination was well demonstrated at the conclusion of the meeting when, Brenda Kunda, an AWEP delegate from Zambia, enthusiastically told Administrations officials to “please tell Mr. & Mrs. Obama that the vibrant women of Africa are here, and we are not going to let you down.”
Karen Richardson in an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement.
The Uganda Women Writers Association (FEMRITE) invites submissions for the 4th Regional Women Writers Residency to be held in November 2012. Founded in 1996, FEMRITE- Uganda Women Writers’ Association is a non-profit dedicated to promoting Ugandan women writers. With over 100 members, FEMRITE is today one of the most successful organizations of its kind on the African continent.
FEMRITE members have gone on to register significant success in the literary world, most notably, Doreen Baingana, whose short story collection Tropical Fish: Tales From Entebbe won the 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize for First Best Book, Africa Region. In 1997, Violet Barungi’s play “Over my dead body” won the British Council International New Play Writing Award for Africa and the Middle East. Monica Arach’s essay In the Stars won the first prize in the Women’s WORLD essay writing competition in 2004, while Mildred Kiconco’s story Effigy Child was highly commended for the Commonwealth Short Story Competition.
The main objectives of the residency are:
At the end of the residency, participating writers are expected to have improved at least one of their writing projects and enriched each other’s manuscripts. Writers will also have the opportunity to submit their writing for an anthology to be compiled after the residency.
Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls to Hold First Graduation Ceremony
Fri., Jan. 13, 2012....
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