For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2552
Release Date:   27 April 2000
 Secretary-General Addresses World Education Forum on Theme of
"Building a Partnership for Girls Education"

 NEW YORK, 26 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the World Education Forum, delivered in Dakar, Senegal, on 26 April:

 Je vous remercie Monsieur le Président.  Il est encourageant de voir que tant d'États participent à cette importante manifestation, et à un niveau si élevé, et que tant d'organisations non gouvernementales y sont représentées. 

 Je tiens d'emblée à remercier le peuple sénégalais pour deux choses: la tenue d'élections libres et régulières qui ont inspiré le continent et impressionné le monde; et l'attachement indéfectible du Sénégal à la cause de l'éducation, dont il apporte une fois de plus la preuve en accueillant le Forum mondial.  C'est d'ailleurs un engagement auquel votre pays est fidèle depuis les premières heures de son indépendance. 

 This conference is a test of all of us who call ourselves the international community.  Ten years ago, at Jomtien, we set ourselves the goal of basic Education for All.  We are still far from achieving it.  Let us start this conference by resolving not to rest until we have made it a reality.

 As we open the twenty-first century, we do have some achievements to celebrate.  Educational levels in many developing countries have climbed dramatically.  The percentage of adult illiterates in the world has declined steadily.  An explosive innovation of technology has brought new learning opportunities to millions.  We have reached a new level of capacity-building and understanding in our work to attain basic education for all. 

 And yet, at least 880 million adults world wide are still illiterate, most of them women.  A yawning digital divide exists between those who have access to new technology and those who have not.  A quarter of a billion children work, in often hazardous or unhealthy conditions.  And according to conservative estimates, more than 110 million school-age children are not attending school.  

 These millions of children are not only being denied something many of us take for granted; they are being denied a fundamental human right spelt out in international instruments their Governments have signed on to -- such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child:  the right to education.
 What is more, the communities where these children live are not only being denied a future labour force of healthy, literate and employable citizens:  they are being denied the foundations for development and a future place in the global economy.  They are, in fact, being denied the future itself. 

 The most tragic and unjust dimension of this state of affairs is this:  of the more than 110 million children who should be in school and who are not, two thirds are girls.  For them, the denial of human rights has struck twice over.  For they are also denied something proclaimed on the first page of the United Nations Charter:  the equal rights of men and women.

 From issues of morality to issues of mortality, the denial of girls' rights begins in early childhood.  When a choice has to be made between educating a boy or a girl, girls are more likely to be kept at home.  When a family income needs to be supplemented, girls are more likely to be sent to work.  Even when girls do go to school, they will often have to do housework at the expense of homework.  When they become pregnant, school policies force them to drop out.  When parents consider their daughters' future, they often see education as a hindrance, not a help, to successful marriage and motherhood.  And when catastrophe strikes -- whether in the form of illness or conflict, displacement or hardship -- women and girls, from sixty-five to five years old, are more likely to shoulder the burden of keeping family and household together. 

 Nothing illustrates their burden more amply than the impact of HIV/AIDS.  Girls are more likely than boys to care for a sick family member and help keep the household running.  Deprived of basic schooling, they are denied information about how to protect themselves against the virus.  Without the benefits of an education, they risk being forced into early sexual relations, and thereby becoming infected.  Thus, they pay many times over the deadly price of not getting an education.

 But by the same token, education is the tool whereby we can break the vicious cycle of AIDS and ignorance. The key to all the locks that are keeping girls out of school -- from poverty to inequality to conflict –- lies in basic education for all. 

 It is often said that education empowers girls by building up their confidence and enabling them to make informed decisions about their lives.  For those of us who attend conferences such as these, that statement may seem to be about university degrees, income, or career fulfilment.  But for most of the world's girls, it is about something much more fundamental.  It is about escaping the trap of child labour, or the perils of going into the labour of childbirth while still a child yourself; about managing pregnancies so that they do not threaten your health, your livelihood or even your life; about ensuring that your children, in their turn, are guaranteed their right to education.

 It is about being able to earn an income when women before you earned none; about protecting yourself against violence and enjoying rights which women before you never knew they had; about taking part in economic and political decision-making; finally, it is about educating your children to do the same, and their children after them.  It is about ending a spiral of poverty and impotence, which previously seemed to have no end. 

 No development strategy is better than one that involves women as central players.  It has immediate benefits for nutrition, health, savings and reinvestment at the family, community and, ultimately, country level.  In other words, educating girls is a social development policy that works.  It is a long-term investment that yields an exceptionally high return. 

 It is also, I would venture, a tool for preventing conflict and building peace.  From generation to generation, women have passed on the culture of peace.  When ethnic tensions cause or exacerbate conflict, women tend to build bridges rather than walls.  When considering the impact and implications of war and peace, women think not only of themselves but about the future of their children.  Educating girls to build an empowered electorate of women could be the most cost-effective form of defence spending. 

 Clearly, spending is required to meet this challenge.  There is no substitute for good teachers who have to be paid, and good textbooks which have to be bought. 

 But spending is not all that is required.  We need to remove the constraints that lead parents to keep their daughters from getting a basic education.  We must ensure that girls are free and fit to make the best of learning opportunities by raising them in a sound, safe and stable environment. 

 We must involve the community and family in quality, non-formal learning approaches for girls who are prevented from attending school in a formal setting, and build bridges to allow them to continue in the formal system.  Once girls are in school, we must work to ensure that school prepares them for life, by developing curricula and materials, and by encouraging attitudes among teachers that emphasize the life skills these girls will need. 

 And we must give them access to another skill they will need for life in the twenty-first century:  the use of information technology, which has become an indispensable tool for learning, communicating and development.

 But the first step is for societies to recognize that educating girls is not an option; it is a necessity.  For many families faced with immediate household priorities, acting on that recognition will mean stark choices.  We must ensure families get the support they need from their local communities and governments, backed by the wider world, so that they can educate all their children -- girls and boys alike.

 There are already encouraging examples of such support -- local and national, intergovernmental and non-governmental -- and several of them are here in Africa.  Guinea has reduced the domestic burdens of girls, by providing wells and mechanical mills.  Malawi has cut the costs of schooling for parents by eliminating school fees and abolishing compulsory uniforms.  In Ghana, the Alliance for Community Action runs a Girls' Education Credit Scheme to enable parents to pay for textbooks and tuition. 

 There are many examples from other parts of the developing world too.  In Cambodia, floating schools have been created for populations that move their boat homes with the seasons, with a double school shift that makes it easier for girls to attend. 

 In some areas of Brazil, the Bolsa Escola programme pays a monthly scholarship into a family account that can be drawn upon only after the child -- boy or girl -- has successfully completed four years of schooling. 

 In Bangladesh, a non-governmental organization (NGO) known as BRAC has opened schools with high girls' enrolment in the poorest rural communities, where previously schools did not exist.  In the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, 14,000 girls attend schools taught by women teachers from their own communities, thanks to the Baluchistan Mobile Female Teaching Training Programme.  In fact, I am pleased that we have with us, at this conference, a woman from Baluchistan who began her career as a teacher.  Today, she serves as Pakistan's Minister of Education. 

 These are indeed inspiring examples, and I could give you many, many more.  But they would still not be enough.  We need to support and harness the ingenuity of these approaches to make them functional at the national level.  We need all those with the power to change things to come together in a global alliance for girls' education.  That is why the United Nations is launching a new global initiative to educate girls.  I have chosen to launch it here in Dakar, for this initiative must be an integral part of the global movement of Education for All, the motto and the raison-d'être of this conference. 

 The goals of this initiative are simple to express:  to demonstrably narrow the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2005; to ensure that by 2015, all children everywhere -- boys and girls alike -- will be able to complete primary schooling education; and to ensure that by then, boys and girls will have equal access to all levels of education. 

 Implementing these goals will require all our sensitivity, imagination, and determination.  It will, indeed, be a test of our entire international community.

 It will be a test of the United Nations system and its ability to support countries.  More than a dozen United Nations entities, led by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), are involved so far; it is an open partnership.  I am sure more will join us soon, for no entity is unaffected by this issue.  We must make sure that we all work together smoothly, without obstructing each other's efforts. 

 By next year, with each of the main countries affected, we aim to have a plan of action which will promote gender equality and sensitivity in all aspects of education -- in enrolment policies and practices; in the curriculum; in teachers' attitudes and the composition of the teaching community; in a learning environment that is safe and free of sexism and sexual harassment; in information, skills and teachers' support that enable girls to make choices in reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention; and in access to new technologies. 

 No matter how good the plan, it will not succeed without political will in each of the countries concerned.  And political will must be underpinned by resources.  We will help countries free up funds for girls' education by advising and assisting them on reaping optimal benefits from development cooperation, policy and education reform, and on relief from the crippling burden of debt repayments.

 We will also, I hope, make educating girls an early test of UNITeS, the United Nations new corps of high-tech volunteers.  This consortium, which I announced in my Millennium Report, is designed to train groups in developing countries in the uses and opportunities of information technology.

 But the United Nations can do nothing single-handed.  We must build and expand partnerships with governments, civil society and the private sector.  The initiative will be a test for all of them.

 It will be a test for all governments in developing countries -- a test of their willingness to make girls' education a real priority.  And it will be a test of donor countries -- a test of their leadership in mobilizing resources.

 It will be a test for non-governmental organizations, and for their new generation of activists enabled by the Internet.  Individual NGOs have made remarkable contributions towards education in many countries, and they have now joined in a global campaign for education.  Today, I say to the NGO community:  we cannot win the battle to educate girls without your expertise, your energy and your expansive reach.  And I promise you:  your views will be heard here too. 

 Similarly, the challenge will be a test of the private sector. Already, business is working in partnership with the United Nations to promote good practices in the areas of environment, labour standards and human rights. Foundations like those of Ted Turner and Bill and Melinda Gates are contributing millions to reproductive health initiatives and vaccination campaigns in the developing world. We need their support in education to sustain the advances they have helped achieve in health.

 The information technology industry recognizes the need to complement the next generation of software with a new generation of savoir-faire.  This industry has an enormous role to play in education.  It also needs educated people, as both producers and consumers.  Educating girls is, therefore, a natural cause for it to adopt.  Should anyone in it be looking for an entry point, the UNITeS high-tech volunteer corps would most certainly welcome their support. 

 Finally, the initiative will be a test for communities and families -- a test of their understanding that education is a help, not a hindrance, in building a strong and healthy family structure and improving a family's fortunes.  That it is the key for enabling succeeding generations to succeed. 

 As we meet in Dakar today, let us look to one of this city's most celebrated daughters, who had to start by defying the odds against her as a girl.  I mean Mariama Bâ.  She was educated 60 years ago against the will of her family, but with the encouragement of one good teacher who believed in her.  She went on to a teachers' training college and achieved the highest exam score in the whole of what was then French West Africa.  She became in her turn an outstanding teacher, and also wrote Une si longue lettre -- a novel, which has been called the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction.  Even today, almost 20 years after her death, she inspires three generations of women throughout Africa and the world by her ethos and her example. 

 As Mariama Bâ said not long before she died:  it is families that make up the nation, and it is among the children that the nation recruits its leaders. 

 The aspirations I have expressed on behalf of girls today apply to all children in every nation.  These aspirations are at the heart of this conference, dedicated to the goal of Education for All.  They are linked to issues, such as quality, inequality and financing, which you will be discussing over these three days. 

 They are expressed in the Framework for Action, which you will adopt at this Forum, and which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its partners will support and follow up.  They form part of the recommendations I have made to world leaders when they gather for the Millennium Summit in September.  Because the key to empowering succeeding generations lies in educating children today. 

 That is the test our international community faces.  That is the test we must pass.  And we shall pass it only if children all over the world can pass the tests of basic education, and go on to pass the tests of life.

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