Joining Forces to Close the Gender Gap in Education

Director-General Irina Bokova and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka today seized the occasion of Mobile Learning Week celebrations to present a new programme, “Empowering adolescent girls and young women through education”, to UNESCO’s Member States, on 24 February 2015.

The programme is a joint undertaking by UNESCO, UN Women, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank, and will be officially launched at a meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at UN Headquarters in New York on 10 March. It provides a coordinated and collaborative effort to close the persistent gender gap in education, focusing on two groups that are most at risk of discrimination and exclusion: adolescent girls (10-19 year olds) and young women (20-24 year olds).

After warmly welcoming Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka to UNESCO for her first visit, the Director-General told a meeting of Member States that the new programme was based on the shared conviction that “gender equality is the most powerful force we have to build more inclusive, more just, more sustainable societies” and education “a game changer for the empowerment of girls and women.”

It will be rolled out gradually in 20 nations where the education gender gap is most critical, and will concentrate on four areas: improving quality and relevance of education; raising awareness at all levels to create a favourable environment for gender equality; strengthening links between the health and education sectors; and improving the data base of statistics on gender and education.

“By combining our strengths we will be able to act on several levels and accompany these countries to make education a lever for equality between men and women, which in turn will serve as a motor for development” said Irina Bokova. “Our ambition is to make a difference in a different  manner, through a crosscutting approach, and putting our competences and efforts together.”

Noting that gender parity and gender equality have not been achieved by a single country in the world, Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasized that education was the single most effective strategy to empower women and address large gaps in political and economic participation. “By linking health, education and other relevant sectors and creating an enabling environment we want to create new or second chances for young women who have left school or are at risk of leaving school. We want to support the transition from education to the meaningful and fulfilling employment. Together we will apply our expertise and experience to this Programme with the aim to create an empowerment model for young women which can be scaled up and implemented in different national contexts.”

Both leaders emphasized the strategic contribution of the programme to the post-2015 development agenda.

The new programme falls under the framework of the Global Partnership for Girls and Women’s Education, launched by UNESCO in 2011.

Prior to the meeting with Member States, Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka addressed the official opening of Mobile Learning Week 2015, celebrated this week under the theme of  Leveraging technology to empower women and girls.