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In Uganda, girls lead UNICEF-backed debate on African education

In Uganda, girls lead UNICEF-backed debate on African education

Walking to school in Kampala
For the first time ever, girls from across Africa today began a debate with the continent's education ministers on barriers that prevent young women from receiving adequate schooling, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which is organizing the event.

Among those participating in the three-day debate, being held in Kampala, are President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy and Penina Mlama, the Executive Director of the Forum for African Women Educationalists, as well as ministers from across the continent.

The debate forms part of the Girls' Education Movement, a "major effort to transform schools and educational systems into environments where girls can achieve and have equal opportunities," UNICEF said.

One of the key topics of discussion is gender in the curriculum. "Girls are treated like second-class citizens in education systems, with the perpetuation of stereotyping and gender discrimination rampant in and out of school," UNICEF pointed out. "Moreover, girls bear domestic responsibilities in school and at home - burdens that compete for the time and energy that should be devoted to studies."

The issue of safety and security is also being tackled, according to UNICEF, which noted that girls often fall victim to abuse and sexual violence in schools and surrounding areas. The agency cited one study in Uganda showing that perpetrators are most often relatives, neighbours and teachers. "With the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the safety and security of girls in and outside school is threatening a generation of youth in Africa," UNICEF warned.

Ms. Bellamy has long championed the importance of using educational systems to combat the deadly pandemic. "UNICEF is challenging governments, local leaders, teachers and young people to help transform schools into hubs of activity and enterprise in the battle against HIV/AIDS - centred not only on reading and writing, but on preventing the spread of the disease while supporting those affected by it," she said.