The EU welcomes the priority theme of this session and in particular the emphasis put on the link between access and participation of women and girls to education and access to full employment and decent work. Within the EU, full access to quality education is in general a reality, although early school leaving remains a concern, especially in marginalized groups and ethnic minorities.
Sustained access to education is a priority of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. By 2020 the EU and its Member States aim to reduce school drop-out rates to less than 10% and to increase the share of 30-34 years old having completed tertiary or equivalent education to at least 40%.
High-quality primary, secondary, higher and vocational education and training are fundamental to the development of today’s knowledge-based society.
Education also plays a critical role in the achievement of poverty eradication and other development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, and access of women and girls to educational and relevant training programs should be ensured with the aim to equip them with the necessary knowledge and prepare them to participate equally in decision-making in all spheres of life and at all levels.
As underlined in the agreed conclusions of the 51st Session of the CSW, education, both formal and non-formal, plays an important role in combating discrimination and violence against women and girls. Harassment and violence against women and girls- at home, on their way to school and at schools and training facilities, however, is also an obstacle to girls and womens access to and completion of education and training.
Although in the EU women generally attain high levels of education 60 percent of new university graduates are women gender differences do persist in terms of academic choices and their professional careers do not reflect their skills level. Despite marked progresses, men still predominate in mathematics, science and technology in higher education and related careers and men also outnumber women as regards advanced research degrees. Women, due to prevalent stereotypes and unequal sharing of care giving responsibilities in the household (SE), are still discouraged from entering these disciplines and tend to opt for arts, humanities and care-related fields. Traditional choices in the subjects studied lay the basis for vertical and horizontal segregation in the labor market.
Women and girls must be encouraged to study and engage in mathematics, science and technology disciplines which are the basis for the skills we will need even more in the future, especially to build more sustainable and greener economies. The European Union’s Europe 2020 Strategy highlights the competitive and economic opportunities of green growth and girls and women should get the education and skills needed to play a full part in tapping into these new opportunities. We cannot afford to waste human resources and competences at a time when human capital is the key to competitiveness in the global economy. Supporting the access of women and girls to information and communication technologies is also a key tool for women’s empowerment.
The Europe 2020 Strategy’s objective to achieve an employment rate of 75% by 2020 sends an important signal that both women and men are to contribute to economic growth and sustainable development. A high employment rate for which a better work-family balance for both women and men is needed is also an important prerequisite for women’s economic independence and empowerment.
The economic crisis we have experienced gives the opportunity to meet the EU’s targets for smart growth, where research and innovation play a key role, and also to address labour market segregation. Gender equality is part of the solution to the present economic difficulties and not a hindrance to economic growth.
The European Union and its Member States are firm supporters of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda. As underlined by the 2008 ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, gender equality is a cross cutting issue for the four strategic objectives of decent work which are employment creation, rights at work, social dialogue and social protection.
It is interesting that girls in developing countries are more enthusiastic when it comes to entering educational programs and professions in mathematics and science that their counterparts in developed nations (SG-report, para 12). The EU and its Member States must do more to actively recruit and better support girls and young women in these fields.