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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS PANEL DISCUSSION ON THE EQUAL ENJOYMENT OF THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION BY EVERY GIRL

16 June 2015

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a panel discussion on realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl, which focused on a broad spectrum of situations and obstacles that girls faced when accessing education and the actions and responses of States.

In his introductory remarks, Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council, expressed regret that close to 62 million girls in the world had no access to school, and that many girls suffered social exclusion.  The new development agenda would provide an opportunity for the international community to re-double its efforts towards girls’ universal access to education. 

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in his opening statement that the empowerment of women had been a great battle of the recent century, and could not have been achieved without education.  Girls’ education was a tremendous force for social change, economic growth and social stability, and the well-being and education of women and girls was the best predictor for a country’s peacefulness.  Many challenges remained in terms of access to education: early pregnancies, violence and discrimination against girls, while extremist movements continued to target girls seeking to access education.  Girls’ education had the potential to change mind sets and ultimately improve the lives of millions; if this challenge was addressed, future generations would be equipped to build and maintain societies based on equality and justice for all.

Marilena Viviani, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund, and panel moderator, said that the right to education had been acknowledged as a multiplier right which contributed to the achievement of many other rights.  Remarkable progress had been made in increasing enrolment, but gaps still remained, particularly in the right to education for girls and education in emergency situations.

Reem Al Hashemi, Minister of State, United Arab Emirates, said that any State that placed priority on education in its budget and built an educational system on the foundation of the principles of gender equality and the rights of the child would obtain the same results as the United Arab Emirates.  Today, 95 per cent of female high school graduates and 80 per cent of males went on to pursue higher education and women constituted 70 per cent of college graduates, one of the highest proportions in the world.

Barbara Bailey, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that both structural and ideological factors denied girls’ access to education.  Ideological determinants were linked to entrenched socio-cultural norms and stereotypes which dictated gender relations in the family, which explained gender inequalities with respect to access to schooling, with females being the disadvantaged group.  Early and forced marriages, and the resulting adolescent pregnancies, impeded the educational progress of girls. 

Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, said that today the need was to ensure the quality of education, in terms of knowledge, skills and confidence; quality also meant safe school environments and respect of human rights.  States had in the first place the obligation to ratify international human rights conventions, include their dispositions into domestic law, combat gender stereotypes and take positive actions in favour of girls. 

Hannah Godefa, United Nations Children’s Fund Ethiopia Goodwill Ambassador, said that governments could tangibly ensure all girls had access to education by making it a State priority, and by supporting and funding numerous practical, proven-to-work initiatives to combat obstacles girls faced: stipends and scholarships, the provision of free or subsidized childcare for younger children, and income transfer programmes which provided support to poor families so that girls did not miss schooling by having to work. 

Adama Coulibaly, Regional Director for the West African Region of Plan International, said barriers to girls’ education were multiple: the cost of education, distance to school, violence in and around schools, gender norms, and early marriage and pregnancy.  During emergencies those barriers became more complex and multiplied, and the situation became worse for marginalized and excluded populations, particularly girls with disabilities and those belonging to minorities. 

In the interactive discussion that followed, speakers underlined the need to combat obstacles to access to education for girls, including gender stereotypes and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and early and child marriages. 
Violence against girls in education was one of major obstacles, a speaker said, noting that violence affected the education of 246 million children every year.  States should ban all forms of violence in and around schools, and the Council should place school-related gender-based violence as a priority on its agenda.  Access to education was often altered in conflict areas, including because of the presence of armed forces on school grounds, which led to reduced enrolment, and a question was raised about best measures to protect girls in education in conflict situations.

The following delegations took part in the discussion: Qatar on behalf of the Arab Group, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Union, Nigeria on behalf of a group of countries, Algeria on behalf of the African Group, Tunisia on behalf of the Arab Group, Egypt on behalf of 19 like-minded countries, Ecuador on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Slovenia on behalf of three countries, Togo, Canada, Egypt, Mexico, China, Rwanda, United Arab Emirates, India, Namibia, Qatar, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Fiji, Bahrain, Turkey, Brazil, Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, Nepal, Liechtenstein and Colombia.

Also speaking were the Human Rights Commission of Mauritania and the National Human Rights Council of Morocco, and the following non-governmental organizations: Plan International (joint statement), International Lesbian and Gay Association, European Disability Forum, International Humanist and Ethical Union, and Amnesty International.

The Council will meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 June, for a full day of meetings.  It will first conclude the clustered interactive dialogue on human rights and transnational corporations and on trafficking in persons, and will then hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Special Rapporteur on internally displaced persons.

Opening Statements

JOACHIM RÜCKER, President of the Human Rights Council, regretted that close to 62 million girls in the world had no access to school, and that many girls suffered social exclusion.  The new development agenda would provide an opportunity for the international community to re-double its efforts towards girls’ universal access to education. 

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in his opening statement that the empowerment of women had been a great battle of the recent century, and could not have been achieved without education.  Access to education allowed girls to grow up to deploy their skills and make choices, and to fully participate in decisions that shaped society.   There had been considerable progress regarding girls’ education in recent years.  This was a tremendous force for social change, economic growth and social stability.  The best predictor for a country’s peacefulness was the well-being and education of women and girls.  Restrictions, violence and injustices continued, however, and constituted a violation of women’s rights.  Many challenges remained in terms of access to education, early pregnancies, violence and discrimination against girls.  Extremist movements continued to target girls seeking to access education.  The international community must free girls and women from the discrimination that was so deeply etched in societies to ensure the fundamental principle of equality between women and men.  Women continued to have limited access to the labour market than men, and continued to receive lower salaries.  Girls’ education had the potential of changing mind sets and ultimately improving the lives of millions.  If they addressed this challenge, future generations would be equipped to build and maintain societies based on equality and justice for all.  Otherwise they would fail the generations to come.   

Statements by Moderator and Panellists

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund, and panel moderator, said that the right to education had been acknowledged as a multiplier right which contributed to the achievement of many other rights.  Remarkable progress had been made in increasing enrolment, but gaps still remained particularly in the right to education for girls and education in emergency situations.

REEM AL HASHEMI, Minister of State, United Arab Emirates, said that the United Arab Emirates had faced several challenges in achieving gender parity in education, including the relatively low level of development when the country had been established in 1997.  The advantage of this situation was that the country was able to build its education system from scratch and incorporate principles of gender equality, which could be funded thanks to the growing income from natural resources.  Similar results could be obtained by any State that placed priority on education in its budget and built an educational system on the foundation of the principles of gender equality and the rights of the child.  The United Arab Emirates had implemented legal, institutional and policy frameworks to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Primary education was compulsory and free for all citizens.  Today, 95 per cent of female high school graduates and 80 per cent of males went on to pursue higher education and women constituted 70 per cent of college graduates, one of the highest proportions in the world.

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund, and panel moderator, noted that 65 million girls were not enrolled in primary or secondary education and asked Ms. Bailey about human rights implications of the denial of education to girls and the links with gender stereotypes.

BARBARA BAILEY, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Chair of the CEDAW Working Group on the Right of Girls and Women to Education, said there existed both structural and ideological factors denying girls’ access to education.  Ideological determinants were linked to entrenched socio-cultural norms and stereotypes which dictated  gender relations in the family.  In that arrangement, women’s primary responsibility was caring for the family in unpaid work, while men tended to be associated with paid work outside the home.   Such division of labour explained gender inequalities in many countries with respect to access to schooling, with females being the disadvantaged group.  Even where girls had the opportunity to attend school, their completion rates and learning levels were lower than those of boys.  Early and forced marriages, and the resulting adolescent pregnancies, impeded the educational progress of girls.  The continued subordination of females in both the private and public domains could be addressed through focus on the following issues: exercise of personal autonomy and greater control of their sexual and reproductive health and rights; moving out of the private sphere into paid decent work in the formal labour market in order to become economically independent and less reliant on male patronage; and fuller participation in political processes and decision-making at all levels.  Ms. Bailey invited States parties to provide suggestions to address the mentioned issues. 

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund and panel moderator, asked what was meant by inclusive and quality education and what measures and steps could States take to ensure that girls had access to such education.

KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, said every boy and girl without exception should be entitled to quality education, and stressed the importance of a human rights based approach.  Today there was a need to ensure the quality of education, in terms of knowledge, skills, confidence and in terms of essential education in accordance with international human rights instruments.  Quality also meant quality and safe school environment and respect of human rights.  States had in the first place to ratify international human rights conventions, and include their dispositions in domestic law.  There was also a need for efforts in terms of development and combatting gender stereotypes.  States had to take positive actions in favour of girls. 

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund and panel moderator, asked what Governments could do to ensure that all girls had access to education.

HANNAH GODEFA, United Nations Children Fund’s Ethiopia Goodwill Ambassador, said that the experience of girls around the world was diversified.  Governments could tangibly ensure all girls had access to education not only by making it a State priority, but by putting girl voices and experiences at the forefront of the framework.  The goal should be for a wide variety of girls to have strong input in the decision-making that would affect their everyday lives at every level.  Leadership and commitment of Governments were critical in ensuring that more girls remained in school, and Governments could support and fund numerous and practical proven-to-work initiatives to combat obstacles that girls faced.  Those varied from stipends and scholarships to conditional grant programmes which had increased access for poor girls, the provision of free or subsidized childcare for younger children, lowering transport costs, and income transfer programmes which provided support to poor families so that girls did not miss schooling in order to work.  Above all, Governments had a powerful role to play in shifting cultural values and deeply held community traditions that could hinder the growth of girls.

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund, and panel moderator, asked Mr. Coulibaly to describe the barriers girls faced in realizing their right to education in humanitarian situations.

ADAMA COULIBALY, Regional Director for the West African Region of Plan International, said barriers to girls’ education were multiple: the cost of education, distance to school, violence in and around schools, gender norms, and early marriage and pregnancy.  During emergencies those barriers would become more complex and multiplied, and the situation would become worse for marginalized and excluded populations, particularly girls with disabilities and those belonging to minorities.  Education was often interrupted during emergencies, with some children never returning to school, while those who stayed received poor quality of education as a result of unsafe and inadequate learning environments.  Dropping out of school was detrimental to girls’ future due to difficulties in catching up on missed lessons, early marriage, and parents preferring to keep girls at home for economic reasons.  When children missed out on their education because of emergencies, the negative impact went beyond the interruption of their learning and exposed them to early marriage, child trafficking and gender-based violence.  At the same time, disasters could offer opportunity to rebuild more resilient communities and change norms that blocked girls’ education.

Discussion

Qatar said it had set up programmes and policies to provide a good level of education for girls, and called on the international community to make greater efforts so girls could freely enjoy their right to education.  Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the right to education was a fundamental right and was paramount for the enjoyment of other rights, and underlined that Islam placed special importance on education for all without discrimination.  European Union expressed grave concern at attacks against girls on their way to school, encouraged all policies that promoted girls’ right to access to education, and expressed concerns about stereotyped fields of study reserved for girls.  Nigeria, speaking on behalf of a group of countries,  noted that access to education was often altered in conflict areas, including because of the presence of armed forces on school grounds, which led to reduced enrolment.  

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, underlined the need to make efforts to combat obstacles to access to education for girls, including gender stereotypes, through capacity building.  Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, recognized the importance of equal access to education for girls, and encouraged increased cooperation and sharing of good practices on how to strengthen access to education for girls.  Egypt, speaking on behalf of 19 like-minded countries, said the right to education enabled girls to accede to other rights, and strongly condemned all acts that may prevent girls from attending schools.  Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, said gender based discrimination contributed to violence against girls, and underlined the importance of quality education for girls, including sexual and reproductive education. 

Slovenia, speaking on behalf of a group of three States, expressed concern about persistent barriers to the education of girls, including harmful traditional practices, and condemned in the strongest terms the attacks on girls in relation to schooling.  The Constitution of Togo guaranteed the right to free and universal primary education which saw an increase in the enrolment rates of children and girls in particular.  Canada said that violence against girls in education was one of major obstacles; violence affected the education of 246 million children every year and Canada asked about measures to protect girls and guarantee their access to schools in conflict situations.  Many factors still compromised the access of girls to their inherent right to education, including socio-economic factors and pervasive gender stereotypes, said Egypt, expressing deep concern about attacks against schools and threats to the security and safety of female students.

Human Rights Commission of Mauritania was particularly concerned about early pregnancy and sexual harassment in schools and families and urged positive action to help girls’ to access schools, including through scholarships and transport.  Plan International called on States to ban all forms of violence in and around schools, and on the Council to place school-related gender-based violence as a priority on its agenda.  International Lesbian and Gay Association said that education must be provided without discrimination, nonetheless, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex girls faced discrimination and violence, sometimes causing school drop-out.

Responses

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund, and panel moderator, invited the panellists to answer some of the questions.  She asked Ms. Al Hashemi to share good practices in ensuring girls’ education as the deadline for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda approached.

REEM AL HASHEMI, Minister of State, United Arab Emirates, said that it was important to establish the necessary legal framework in accordance with international standards and based on the principle of the best interest of the child.  The Constitution of the United Arab Emirates protected the right to education and the rights of the child.  It established  a minimum age for marriage of 18, and made primary education compulsory and free.  The Federal National Council had approved a draft federal law to provide a framework for child protection and to harmonize national legislation with international conventions.  The draft law prohibited child exploitation and involvement of children in any work considered to hinder the child’s education.  Ms. Al Hashemi warned that the cookie-cutter approach to achieving girls’ education was definitely not the right one.  In culturally sensitive communities it was important to ensure that programmes were actually applicable to the local community.  Full participation of women in society would ensure that all girls were educated.

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund and panel moderator, asked how to change social and cultural norms that still discriminated against girls. 

BARBARA BAILEY, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Chair of the CEDAW Working Group on the Right of Girls and Women to Education, said a universal pattern was the sex segregation of the curriculum, which was linked to the sexual division of labour.  Gender stereotypes were embedded in school curriculums and contributed to restrict girls’ access to education.   CEDAW regularly called on States to offer sexual and reproductive education to girls, as well as to address harmful traditional practices.  The right of girls to education was a multiplier right, and catalysed equality between men and women.  Women continued to be clustered in unprotected work sectors and underrepresented at the political sphere. 

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes, United Nations Children’s Fund and moderator, asked what the United Nations and international system could do to support States.

KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, said that it was essential to ensure the safety of schools, human rights education and teacher training.  One of the key elements of quality education was how to meet human rights objectives, as laid down in international human rights treaties.  The content of education was important and all discriminatory provisions must be removed from therein.

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund and panel moderator, asked Ms. Godefa to elaborate on what girls could do to ensure that their voices were heard in education policies and programmes.

HANNAH GODEFA, United Nations Children Fund’s Ethiopia Goodwill Ambassador, explained that girls clubs in Ethiopia enabled girls to exercise their leadership skills and to communicate on the issues that concerned them.  Those clubs were a good way for girls to get involved at the local level and play an important role in mitigating school and community based barriers to education.  They provided a way to liaise with school management, and provided life skills training.  There was a need to continue supporting initiatives such as girls clubs through training and material and equipment provision, including education materials and hygiene kit materials.  The next step was to harness the power of tools such as social media to advocate for important challenges affecting girls, such as gender equality.  UNICEF’s TechnoGirl in South Africa connected more than 10,000 adolescent girls in underprivileged schools with mentors from the technological sector in order to boost their skills and job readiness. 

MARILENA VIVIANI, Associate Director, Programme Partnerships, Division of Programmes at United Nations Children’s Fund, and moderator, asked for examples of good practices to support girls to get the education they needed. 

ADAMA COULIBALY, Regional Director for the West African Region, Plan International, said that disasters and emergencies could have a devastating impact on girls’ education.  But good education in emergencies brought both short-term protective and long-term innovative change.  Despite destruction and chaos, the worst situation could be turned into an opportunity.  Plan International was therefore running safe schools programmes to ownership for children of disaster response.  Preparedness was also key to mitigate the effects of disaster. 

Discussion

Ensuring education for all was a priority and a pillar of sustainable development in Mexico, which was taking action to reduce inequality and exclusion in education, and had in place a development plan for quality education in Mexico.  China said that the international community must pay more attention to the right to education for girls by eliminating gender inequalities and ensuring equal access to education.  Actions of Rwanda to realize girls’ education included removing education-related costs, building decent schools with community participation, making schools girl friendly, and investing heavily in quality of education by providing sufficient numbers of teachers and investing in their training.  United Arab Emirates said that girls had to be encouraged to enrol in schools and that was why the United Arab Emirates had in place adequate legislation and had undertaken a number of other measures such as removing distances between schools and homes.  India said the world was still a long way from achieving goals on girls’ education and international organizations had an important role to play in identifying challenges, and asked how the Education for All Agenda could be sustained in the post-2015 development agenda.  Namibia said that by protecting and promoting the right to education for girls, other developmental goals were reached, and Namibia had in place a progressive education policy, with free and universal primary education, and secondary education to be free as of 2016.  Qatar said that the right to education must be enjoyed by everyone and this right and the educational system must be protected in situations of peace and conflict. 

Greece stressed that the achievement of the right to education entailed combatting discrimination within the education system, and of social stereotypes, in order to provide for the inclusion of women and girls through changing of the perception of gender roles.  Saudi Arabia said that education was the basic component of any modern society, and as such was reflected in the Saudi Constitution.  The country recently increased the access of girls to education.  It was noted that good cooperation at the international level was key to promoting girls’ education.  Estonia noted that girls in that country enjoyed advantage in schools, but a disadvantage in real life.  Although better educated, women did worse in the career and labour market, due to deeply rooted stereotypes in public consciousness.  Fiji stated that free and compulsory education for all children was one mechanism that countries could adopt to ensure that girls went to schools and stayed there.  Governments had to take measures to overcome attitudinal barriers and to ensure that education was free and without any hidden costs.  Bahrain stated that education was a key instrument in achieving comprehensive economic growth, which was why it was necessary to provide equal educational opportunities to all children.  Education in Bahrain was provided to girls on an equal footing with boys and men. 

National Human Rights Council of Morocco said that Morocco had adopted a strategic vision for education, based on the promotion of equal educational opportunities, quality education for everyone, and education that promoted social and individual skills.  European Disability Forum noted that attitudinal, communicational and physical barriers globally prevented girls from realizing their right to education.  Only a small number of girls with disabilities completed primary education, which was a fact that required urgent attention.   International Humanist and Ethical Union reminded that some 15 million girls were expected to marry and not study.  Child marriage impeded girls’ access to education, whereas States repeatedly failed to tackle entrenched practices based on displaced concepts of community, tradition and honour.  Turkey underlined that although the advancing of gender equality and empowerment of women was among the most important tasks, women still faced limited choices, inequalities and restricted freedoms, including in access to education.  The improvement of their situation would have a dramatic impact on the well-being of societies and sustainable development.

Brazil shared concern about the growing threats to the right to education of girls and called for increased efforts to ensure that schools were safe for girls.  The full realization of the right to education for girls required specific measures targeting women and girls which would take into account their particular vulnerabilities.  Empowerment of women and girls was a key priority and education was its key element, stressed the Republic of Korea and added that the issue of unequal access to education must be addressed, not only between girls and boys, but between girls, and it must be noted that girls with disability or girls from rural areas had limited access to education.  Sierra Leone said that access to education remained a key challenge for many girls, particularly for those affected by conflict or girls living in rural areas and stressed the importance of role models of women who had overcome many challenges.  Nepal accorded priority to increasing the enrolment rate of children from marginalized and backward communities, including the girl child, and had put in place various measures to facilitate their access to education, such as the provision of scholarships, hostel facilities, educational materials, school uniforms and transportation support.  Liechtenstein was pleased that the Sustainable Development Goals took into account not only education, but also early childhood and violence against women.  Colombia said that education should be inclusive, promote respect for diversity, be sensitive to those in situations of vulnerability, and should break away from traditional practices that were harmful to women.  Amnesty International said that girls faced multiple barriers in access to education linked to persistent gender discrimination and inequality in society and urged States to introduce gender-sensitive curricula and teaching methodologies.

Concluding Remarks

REEM AL HASHEMI, Minister of State, United Arab Emirates, thanked her fellow panellists for their comments and noted that the Government believed that international cooperation was an important cornerstone of efforts to promote human rights, including the right to education.  As such, the Government of the United Arab Emirates was the world’s largest donor of official development assistance in proportion to its national income.  It was also committed to the prevention of sexual violence and conflict, and had already contributed funds to Somalia to that end.  It would host an international conference on education for almost 2 million refugee children in the Middle East.

BARBARA BAILEY, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Chair of the CEDAW Working Group on the Right of Girls and Women to Education, invited States parties to devote special attention to the right of girls to education, to guarantee their safety in schools, and to ensure that they had a place in school and beyond.  She also invited States to give greater attention to achieving gender balance in the distribution of power.  The gender regime of schooling had to produce confident girls.  She invited all to commit to schools and to make the vision of every girl enjoying full access to education a reality. 

KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, stressed the need to focus on the responsibility of Governments to develop education policies and plans that would enable all women and girls to realize their right to education.  It was extremely important that the necessary programmes were devised and had appropriate monitoring mechanisms attached.   States also had the responsibility to dismantle discriminatory structures.

HANNAH GODEFA, United Nations Children’s Fund Ethiopia Goodwill Ambassador, said that it was important to support and empower women in leadership positions, and to include youth voices at the forefront of discussions that shaped the future of girls.  It was also important to empower marginalized and disadvantaged girls, such as girls with disability, rural or poor girls, and not to lose girls in conflict.

ADAMA COULIBALY, Regional Director for the West African Region, Plan International, said that girls had even more challenges to access education in emergency, and believed that post-emergency measures must include change.  It was critical to empower girls to make the change.  States needed to ensure that schooling was not disrupted during emergencies, and to protect schools from unlawful use.  Child protection measures must be included in all phases of emergency response.  Education in emergency was the least funded sector and States were called upon to set up a Global Humanitarian Fund for Education.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC15/071E