Slow progress

GlenysKinnock4x3.jpgGlenys Kinnock on the education of women and girls in developing countries 

We know that education is one of the very best ways to reduce poverty within families and across generations, and that it is key to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. It provides the building blocks a girl needs to fully participate in society, earn a living, care for her children and family, and stand up and make her own decisions. But while education is the one constant, positive determinant of practically every single development outcome I can think of, limited progress has been made in this area. 

I have seen for myself the strength and determination of young girls who walk every day for several hours to and from school, simply because they understand that education will offer the opportunity of a better life. These girls and millions like them are determined and ambitious. Some want to be doctors, some want to be teachers. One I spoke to aspires to be a pilot.

I have talked to mothers who wouldn’t allow their girls to go to school because there weren’t any toilets, and have met young girls who took their baby brothers and sisters to school because they were so determined to learn. Despite facing multiple barriers, these girls continue to grasp their chance. 

Yesterday I met Manizha and Samira from Afghanistan, both women’s rights activists. They told me that in their country only 12% of women are literate, and that approximately three times more boys attending school than girls. They described schools being burnt down, acid attacks, the poisoning of drinking water, and the threats and violence faced by teachers. They told me about their concerns with insufficient monitoring by our Department for International Development of funds allocated to the Ministry of Education in Kabul. It begs the question: what checks and balances have the UK government put in place? 

There is now a short time left to fulfil the promise of MDG2, which only focuses on primary education, and also the promise of the 2000 ‘Education for All’ Dakar conference held, which agreed more ambitious objectives. 

The Dakar agenda clearly defines priorities from early childhood education right through to adult literacy and women’s rights. Current discussions must focus on the need for a wider and broader pledge, one that aims to ensure universal literacy by 2030 – and that must include tackling the gender gap. Of the 760 million illiterate adults around the world two thirds of them are women. Poor women, rural women, women who speak a minority language – they are all among those that are left behind. Unless there is a much stronger commitment to access to education for women and mothers, we will continue to exclude and marginalise women. 

I think it’s time governments placed a much greater emphasis on tackling those blatantly discriminatory social norms that values a boy’s education more than a girl’s. And I hope it is a priority for both the EU and the UK in their dealings with countries where they are donors. Simply emphasising getting girls into school is not enough, because unless a firm priority is given to tackling the root causes of gender inequality it just won’t happen.

The new global framework, to be finalised in 2015, will include access to secondary education. But our government must move beyond the High Level Panel report recommendations, and recognise those underlying causes of gender inequality. 

Malala said: “They will not stop me. I will get my education if it is in home, school, or any place”. Millions of women and girls simply can’t wait for the fulfilment of their right to a quality education.

Baroness Glenys Kinnock is a backbench Labour Peer

Published 7th November 2013

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