Education International
Education International

Empowering women and girls through education

published 22 January 2011 updated 22 January 2011

EI's first World Women's Conference continued into its second day as women unionists around the world debate ways to empower girls and women through education.

Lok Yim Pheng, a member of the EI Executive Board representing the Asia-Pacific region, opened the session, reminding participants that gender equality is the responsibility of both women and men.

UNESCO's Director for Gender Equality, Saniye Gülser Corat, delivered an impressive keynote, stating that education strengthens the position of women in both family and social spheres. “Good quality education has definitely empowered me as a woman,” she said. “Otherwise I would not be here today.” With girls representing 54% of out-of-school children and women two-third of all illiterate adults, all of us have to act to confront the broken promise by governments to have gender parity in primary education by 2005.

Monique Fouilhoux, an EI Deputy General Secretary, moderated a wide ranging panel discussion initiated by four panellists.

Carolyn Hannan, former Director of the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, commented that so far we have concentrated on primary education. The focus should shift to secondary education because it is at that level that women are empowered to move from informal to decent work. Drawing attention to the theme of the forthcoming UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting, which will focus on access of girls and women to education, especially in science and technology, Hannan also remarked that gender stereotypes should not be perpetuated through education.

Chair of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and EI's chief regional co-ordinator for the African region, Assibi Napoe, presented the work of the campaign especially the global campaign to get girls into school. Focusing specifically on Africa, Napoe lamented the widespread exploitation of women and girls as sex workers or domestic workers, often resulting in girls being trafficked across borders and nations. This of course prevents them from attending school.

The next panellist, Maki Hagashikawa, spoke about the United Nations Girls' Education Initative (UNGEI). As a conglomeration of partners, its strategy to empower girls is multi-sectoral, working through network partnerships and collective advocacy. “To confront the obstacles to girls' access to education, we need to be more effective at the national level,” she said.

Stella Maldonado, General Secretary of CTERA an EI member organisation in Argentina, described the situation in Latin America, where education is affected by a series of crises – financial, economic, political and environmental. Worsened by the lack of political will of governments and the neo-liberal agenda, the economies in the region suffer and as job opportunities decline, girls have to quit school to engage in informal work to contribute to family income.

In the discussions which followed, participants raised the importance of sports and physical education for girls and how we should confront the discrimination in that area of the curriculum just as we do for the case of science and technology. Another topic was the need to include gender awareness knowledge and skills in teacher training as a strategy to break gender stereotypes that teachers themselves perpetuate.

The conference, which gathers nearly 400 women unionists and some men from around the world, will end on 23rd January.

All photos of the event are available on our Flickr site.

For further information, please visit: www.ei-ie.org/women2011.

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