The United Nations has launched a new broad based initiative in West and Central Africa to increase girls’ access to quality education in an effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of universal primary education and gender equality.
“The challenges we face in terms of access to education for girls in this region are enormous, but they are achievable when we join all our efforts,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, the South African singer said at the launch in Dakar, Senegal, of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), a wide partnership of UN agencies, national and local governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Girls’ education and quality education in the region face many challenges, from emergencies and HIV/AIDS, to deepening poverty and persistent gender disparities. The result is that about one child out of two is out of school, most of them girls from poor rural areas.
Over 80 per cent of children out of school have mothers with no formal education, and region-wide only 86 girls are in school for every 100 boys.
“There is so much at stake, economically and politically for this region, that we simply cannot trifle with the contribution of women and girls,” UNICEF acting interim Regional Director Theophane Nikyema said.
“The sooner we give more attention to gender equality and equity, to prepare the foundation for girls through a quality, empowering education, the better for both the region and the continent as a whole,” he added.
The complexity of the issues preventing girls from accessing school requires a diverse group of partners to address them with the goal of moving girls’ education forward at every level and in every setting, UNICEF said.
To reach the MDGs related to girls’ education by their target date of 2015, countries in the region must increase the enrolment rate by 3.5 per cent per year, but the annual increase observed between 1980 and 2001 has been only 1 per cent. The NGO Oxfam predicts that “at the current rate of progress, gender parity will not be reached until 2038.”
UN agencies participating in UNGEI include UNICEF, the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), World Bank, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Other key partners include national and local governments, ministries of education, grass-roots organizations, local and international NGOs and donor governments. Partnerships already struck with the African Union (AU) and the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) are critical in mobilizing country action for UNGEI objectives