- Heading to Burkina Faso to launch an initiative to give more young females in West and Central Africa access to a quality education, the chief of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has called on leaders to focus "as a matter of extreme urgency" on schooling girls.
As a number of countries in Western and Central Africa struggle to achieve their development goals, UNICEF is calling on donors and governments in the region to assign greater weight to the role of education and to invest far more in the education of girls.
- Hopes of improving education in this part of Africa have been shattered by a devastating set of social and economic ills, coupled with internal conflicts in several countries, UNICEF Director Carol Bellamy said. "As a result, so too are the hopes of any sustainable development. Educating girls is a proven way to revive these hopes."
Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré is expected to join Ms. Bellamy during the launch in Ouagadougou of the "25 by 2005" Girls' Education initiative. Eight countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Kinshasa (DRC), Guinea, Mali and Nigeria - are included in this regional initiative.
The effort to get and keep girls in school in the region is undermined in several countries by acute poverty, ongoing conflict and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, UNICEF said, calling on donors and governments in the region to assign greater weight to the role of education and to invest far more in girls' schooling.
The regional launch is part of '25 by 2005', UNICEF’s global initiative to accelerate progress on getting more girls into school in 25 countries by the year 2005. UNICEF said it is working closely with these countries to help them achieve the goal of reaching gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005.
UNICEF today says it believes that by making education more accessible to girls, countries take a decisive step in fulfilling the right of all children - both girls and boys - to receive a quality basic education. "Full education for all children cannot be achieved without the education of girls," the agency said.
The eight countries in Western and Central Africa included in the initiative are all showing a low enrolment rate of girls. In Nigeria, only 33 percent of the country's girls are enrolled in school. The number is even lower in Congo Kinshasa (32%) and Burkina Faso (28%). Girls' enrolment rates are somewhat higher in the other five countries: Mali (36%), Guinea (41%), Central African Republic (42%), Chad (45%) and Benin (57%).
The eight countries also showed big differences in gender parity in school enrolment. While the number of girls and boys enrolled in Congo Kinshasa and Nigeria was almost equal, the gender gap reached 24 percent in Chad and even 25 percent in Benin.
The countries had been chosen because they were states where girls' education were "in a critical situation and urgent help is required" to meet the UN's worldwide goal of reaching gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005. UNICEF had only admitted countries with low enrolment rates for girls; gender gaps of more than 10 percent in primary education enrolment; and countries with more than one million girls out of school.
- It will take significant adjustments for African governments to meet the expenses of providing girls and boys a quality basic education and equal access to school, said Ms Bellamy. "And it will take significant funding from the donor community to help them. But the payoff for the region, if countries focus specifically on getting girls into school, would be tremendous."
She added that families and communities in the region need to be encouraged to fully embrace education, and particularly that of girls, "as a meaningful and worthy investment." Ms Bellamy said the onus is on governments to lead the way.
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