General Assembly President urges Arab States to invest in quality education

7 February 2007

The only way for the status of women in the Arab world to improve is for the governments there to invest in “quality education,” the United Nations General Assembly President said today, pointing out that simply passing laws on gender equality is not enough because deeply ingrained attitudes have to change.

“Until we invest in quality education, which questions certain interpretations of religious doctrines, and their cultural implications, we will continue to deny women equal opportunities,” Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa told a high-level meeting in Washington, in a speech focusing on gender equality and education in the Arab world.

“Governments must begin by making primary education for all, particularly for girls, an urgent national development priority. It is not enough to merely raise the enrolment and literacy rates if we continue to, explicitly and implicitly, teach our children notions of inferiority and stereotyping.”

The meeting, which focused on gender issues, was organized by Ambassador Shereen Tahir-Kehli, Senior Adviser to the United States Secretary of State on the Empowerment of Women. Participants included members of the Women's Empowerment Action Team, which consists of a number of women Ambassadors active on gender issues.

Sheikha Haya’s speech covered two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – time-bound targets that aim to slash a host of social ills – namely, the aim of achieving universal primary education, and promoting gender equality and empowering women.

On Thursday, she will be back at UN Headquarters in New York to chair an informal meeting of the Assembly’s Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council reform.