In observance of the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, the Permanent Mission of Finland in Geneva co-hosted together with the Canadian, Peruvian, Swiss and Turkish missions a panel-discussion on girls’ education. The panel consisted of representatives from the missions, UN-experts on children’s and human rights and academicians who elaborated the significance and relevance of girls’ education not only to achieve gender equality, but also in accomplishing the development goals. After the discussion, Plan, an international NGO working on children’s rights, officially launched global “Because I am a Girl”-campaign that was simultaneously initiated in over 70 countries of the world.
The panelists agreed that the number of girls in education had significantly risen since the beginning of the millennium, but severe challenges remained. Even today one in three girls lacks education due to discrimination and poverty. Forced child marriages are one of the central problems that prevent girls from attending schools. In several parts of the world social norms and cultural traditions encourage families to wed their daughters underage and often without their consent. Once girls are married they are not permitted to continue their education as their role is to take care of the family and house and therefore educating girls is seen to be a waste.
The panelists added that the school environment is not always very safe for girls and the Plan noted that over 150 million girls have experienced sexual violence and harassment. Teacher-pupil abuse and sexual exploitation is prevalent across all the countries. Particularly adolescent girls are in a vulnerable position when teachers may extort them by threatening to fail them in certain courses or lowering their marks. Therefore the panelists emphasized that schools, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, must increase the number of female teachers who would not only function as role models to young girls but their presence would also decrease the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence in classrooms. Lastly the discussants unanimously agreed that the post-2015 development agenda must take into account girls’ education. Accomplishment of gender equality will benefit societies as whole and help further in achieving other development goals.
After the panel Plan launched officially its global campaign “Because I am a Girl” that aims to reach 4 million girls directly – improving their lives with access to school, skills, livelihoods and protection. In honor of the campaign several well-known monuments, including the Empire State building and the Finlandia-house in Helsinki, were lit in pink. With the campaign that will last until 2015 Plan strongly supports the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
More information: www.plan-international.org/girls/