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Five years after world leaders embraced the goal of universal basic education, champions of girls’ education and equity met to analyze why efforts are falling short and to identify steps for accelerating progress.
Schools are open to girls again in remote villages across Afghanistan. In Bangladesh, after offering parents payments of wheat and rice to send their daughters to school, girls now outnumber boys in secondary schools, although overall enrollments for boys and girls remain very low. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania enrollments have surged after far-sighted leaders abolished school fees.
Yet 104 million children are still deprived of a basic education in dozens of impoverished nations around the globe, and 60 percent of these youngsters are girls. Of the 40 million children in the world who are physically or mentally handicapped, 90 percent are not in school. Furthermore, many out of school children belong to ethnic or language minorities or are in families displaced by war and conflicts.
Champions of girls’ education and equity met in Washington, D.C., on March 2 to chart the path forward. Five years ago, leaders from 189 countries – including the United States and every major industrialized nation – endorsed the Millennium Declaration from which a set of eight Millennium Development Goals were drawn for eradicating hunger, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, reducing child mortality and maternal deaths, safeguarding the environment, achieving universal primary education and promoting gender equality and empowering women by 2015.
The leaders made bold their desire to tackle the elimination of gender disparities in elementary and secondary enrollments by 2005. The very name of the conference signaled their failure to achieve this milestone: Missing the Mark: Girls’ Education and the Way Forward.
An overflow crowd of more than 300 heard from Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) offer bipartisan perspectives on why the United States must make good on promises to give education and development a higher place in its foreign policy priorities; from Jeffrey Sachs, the internationally renowned economist who directs the U.N. Millennium Project; from international panels including leading educators from Nigeria, Bangladesh and Colombia and senior officials from the Population Council, UNESCO, UNICEF, U.K. Department for International Development and the World Bank; and from Gene Sperling, the former Clinton administration national economic adviser who spearheads the Council on Foreign Relations’ new Center for Universal Education.
The event was organized by the Center for Global Development (CGD), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the UN Millennium Project. Nancy Birdsall, president of CGD, Geeta Rao Gupta, president of ICRW, and Amina Ibrahim, national coordinator of Education for All in Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Education, also led the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality, which released two major reports in January that offered practical blueprints for closing the education and equity gaps by 2015.
Millennium Project Task Force Leaders on Education and Gender Equality Nancy Birdsall - President, Center for Global Development Geeta Rao Gupta - President, International Center for Research on Women Amina J. Ibrahim - National Coordinator, Education for All, Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria
Two panel discussions took place:
Panel One: Reaching Universal Primary Education and Gender Parity: Challenges for National Governments and Donors
Chair -Amina J. Ibrahim Findings and Recommendations for the Education Sector from the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality
Vicky Colbert de Arboleda Executive Director, Escuela Nueva, Back to the People Foundation Experiences from Colombia
Desmond Bermingham U.K. Department for International Development Donor Challenges
Elizabeth King Research Manager, Development Research Group, World Bank Making the Donor Relationship Work
Nicholas Burnett Director, Education for All, Global Monitoring Report, UNESCO Closing Comments on Strategies for Moving Forward
Panel Two: Gender Parity: Why Secondary Education Is Critical to the MDGs
Chair - Geeta Rao Gupta Gender Equality Findings and Recommendations for Gender Equality from the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality
Cynthia Lloyd Director of Social Science Research, Population Council Chair, National Academy of Sciences Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Importance of Secondary Education Dilara Hafiz Director of Secondary and Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Bangladesh Experiences from Bangladesh