“]Globally, some 39 million girls of lower secondary age are currently not enrolled in either primary or secondary education, while two thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate adults are women. Only about one third of countries have achieved gender parity at secondary level.
“There are no immovable barriers to gender equality and education for all,” Irina Bokova said. “Young girls and women are changing the world, we must support them. We must give them the tools they need to shape the world as they wish.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon struck a personal note in his opening remarks, as he recalled his childhood as a displaced person at the close of World War II when his mother, like other women enjoyed little help bringing children into the world.
Observing the similar needs of women in Africa today, the Secretary-General stressed his conviction that “investing in girls and women must lie at the heart of the global development agenda. Education sends a message of confidence and hope, it tells children ‘you have a future, what you think matters’. But although education is a right, it is not a reality for all too many girls,” said Mr Ban
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of her commitment to UNESCO’s ideals and achievements. The Secretary of State announced that the U.S. will support UNESCO’s work in collating data on gender and education, saying that “more data will help target investment where it will have the greatest impact.” She also stressed the potential of partnerships, notably with the private sector, to raise funds and, equally importantly, to find creative new ways for more effective action.”
In her keynote address, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina pointed out that “If you educate a boy, you educate one boy, whereas if you educate a girl, you educate her entire family and community.” The Prime Minister described efforts made by her country to improve education and care for girls and women since 1971, including scholarships made available to girls and the recent creation of an Asian University for Women.
“All studies have shown that educated women take better care of their families,” said Prime Minister Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé of Mali, who spoke of the positive impact of girls’ education on social and economic conditions for society at large.
Other participants in the Forum included the Aga Khan, founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network Foundation and senior representatives of several corporate giants participating in the partnership – including Nokia, Procter and Gamble, GEMS Education, Microsoft and the Packard Foundation.
The Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s education will focus mainly on secondary education and adult literacy, especially in Africa and Asia. The High-Level Panel established at the Forum today will complement these efforts by stepping up global advocacy, and acting as a ‘global conscience’ for the advancement of girls and women.