The subject for this years panel on the human rights of women Empowering Women through Education – is timely. In September, the MDG Review Summit will discuss progress in the implementation of the MDGs, including MDG3. MDG3 is about promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Its implementation must be measured in the light of CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action. MDG3 aims, among other things, at the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Only with gender parity at all educational levels will women begin to have the same opportunity as men. Education is not the only factor that will ensure that women can exercise and enjoy their human rights, but without education there will not even be a beginning of such empowerment.
MDG3 is about more than promoting equal access for boys and girls in primary, secondary education and higher education, however. It is not the access that counts but the completion rate and the successful transition of girls from school to a working life and participation in society. In other words: girls should have as many years of education as boys. The school system should be a vehicle for de facto equality. Unfortunately, this is not the case and as long as the drop out rate of girls in education is higher than that of boys, the empowerment of girls and women through education will remain problematic.
The EU feels that there are various gender related reasons for the high drop out of girls. We think that these problems can be solved by taking a human rights based approach that ensures that the education systems and all elements of these systems, including education policies, initial and in-service education and training for teachers and trainers, schools, school curricula, teaching materials, are gender sensitive. It should take that existing gender hierarchies in are counterbalanced in order to empower both girls and boys. Such an approach requires the sustained attention of this Council, however, if we are to address the causes for the drop out of girls effectively.
Drop out rates are highest at the time girls reach puberty. When there are no separate sanitation facilities for boys and girls at school or when there are no sanitary towels available, young girls will not attend school when they are menstruating. In this context, the EU welcomes the attention the Independent Expert on Water and Sanitation has paid to access to water and sanitation in the fulfillment of human rights.
Parents may also keep their daughters out of school because of sexual harassment. Teachers and fellow male students on occasion harass girls at all levels of education. The EU urges all Governments to implement effective measures that penalize teachers that are guilty of or condone such harassment. Their responsibility is to protect children. Schools need to be made safer for female students, and in some cases transportation to schools may be necessary to ensure that girls are not subject to violence in getting to school. The EU would like to call on the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women to continue to pay attention to violence against school girls in this context.
There are other measures Governments can take top ensure that girls remain in education.
The EU welcomes the removal of tuition fees in many countries as a necessary step in ensuring access to education. It is also important that Governments continue work to reduce the other costs associated with primary education such as textbooks, transport and uniforms.
Large numbers of girls around the world are taken out of education in the context of forced and early marriage, with terrible consequences for themselves and for the development of their communities. In addition to being denied the right to choose their own spouse, evidence shows that forced and early marriage is heavily linked to the denial of basic rights including the right to health and education. In this context, the EU would like that Governments ensure that girls are not married early and are allowed to complete their education.
The EU welcomes policies that are aimed at the re-entry in the educational system of teenage mothers. To allow teenage mothers to complete their education shows commitment towards gender equality in the education sector.
The EU would also like to emphasise the importance of investment in non-formal education for women and girls, such as vocational training and literacy programmes.
The EU also welcomes curriculum reform that would make education more relevant for girls and gender sensitive. The curriculum should be equally relevant for girls as it is for boys. It should also include such elements as gender-sensitive health and HIV/AIDs programmes. If education is not relevant to their lives, girls will drop out. The issues of gender and gender equality should also be included in curricula and programmes for initial and in-service teacher training.
Finally, the EU welcomes policies aimed at ensuring equal employment opportunities for female teachers as a means of creating a more girl friendly environment in schools and universities.
These are a number of measures Governments can take to make education available, accessible and acceptable for girls so as to be a means for the realization of effective gender equality and the empowerment of women. The EU stands ready to assist in the implementation of such measures, wherever it can.
Thank you, Mr President.