Learn to lead: Educated girls can do anything

16/10/2018

To mark the 2018 International Day of the Girl (IDGC), a special event was held at UNESCO putting girls’ education at the forefront. “Girls who are properly motivated and educated can do anything,” said Kadiatou, a young activist aged 17 from Guinea, who symbolically took over the role of UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, during the event.

An inspiring message

“Learn to lead” was a strong message shared by UNESCO on the occasion of IDGC this year through a special event shedding light on the skills needed to empower girls socially and economically to become the women of tomorrow. Bringing together over 600 participants, the special event included a round table co-organized with Plan International France and the award ceremony for the 2018 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education.

In an opening video message, words from the UNESCO Director-General echoed in the full room: “Girls’ education is a fundamental right; it is also a powerful lever for development. Girls’ education is at the intersection of two of the most important challenges of our time: education and gender equality.” She then symbolically handed over her role as Director-General to Kadiatou who has spent much of her young life fighting for the rights of girls to an education and against early marriage.

Kadiatou spoke passionately about the power and potential of young girls. “We need to break the chain of inequality, so girls can decide for themselves the life they want to lead,” she said. “If I really was Director-General of UNESCO, I would go to hard-to-reach girls in rural zones and offer them hope for change.” Watch the Facebook Live with Kadiatou (in French).

Young voices

Young voices on the panel discussed topics ranging from the importance of supportive mothers and communities, the role of boys and men, the importance of targeted investment, partnerships and policy action.

Sakshi, a young girl aged 19 from India and youngest panel member, wants to be a business manager. “My father did not support my education. He did not want to send me away from home and study, but my mother convinced him that my life would be better if I did,” she shared with the room. Sakshi advanced through the Saksham programme, which offers professional training and access to employment. “My message to girls is don't let other people take your decisions.”

Ibrahima, a graduate in legal and political science aged 23, spoke of the importance of involving boys. “I have been committed to the cause of children's rights because in my own family, girls and boys were given equal opportunity,” he said.

Personal interventions from the audience spoke of the hope inspired for all women by events like this one. “Through education girls will no longer be considered as victims but as actors of change,” Kadiatou summarized. She was one of 1,000 symbolic #GirlsTakeover of positions of power globally to mark IDGC.

2018 laureates

After a short musical interlude, which saw the audience on its feet and singing, the award ceremony of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education began. This year, the Prize recognized the Misr El Kheir Foundation for their work supporting girls' education in some of the poorest villages of Egypt, and the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation for helping pregnant adolescent girls and mothers have a second chance to continue their education. Watch the Facebook Live with the laureates.

UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini, handing over the Prize with Xuejun Tian, Vice Minister of Education and Chairperson of the National Commission for UNESCO of the People’s Republic of China, said the three essential qualities for the advancement of girls were knowledge, self-confidence and empowerment.

Receiving the award on behalf of the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation Hon. Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport of Jamaica said, “This Prize will allow the Foundation to enhance our virtual learning platform reaching rural girls.”

“UNESCO has been leading the global efforts to promote education and gender equality as part of its values, said Mohamed Abdelrahman representing the Misr El Kheir Foundation. “We embrace and share these same values and will continue, with this award, to give our girls wings to fly and to pursue their dreams.”

The UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education honours outstanding contributions advancing girls’ and women’s education. Established in 2015 and funded by the Government of the People’s Republic of China, the Prize is annually granted to two laureates and consists of an award of US$ 50,000 each. This year was the third edition of the Prize, and the first award ceremony to be held at UNESCO.

Despite progress, more girls than boys still remain out of school, UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates that 16 million girls will never set foot in a classroom and women account for two thirds of the 750 million adults without basic literacy skills.