Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The best place to be a woman

In a week that has seen women in Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world where women cannot drive -- continue their fight to break the taboo, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has published its annual Global Gender Gap Index.
So where is the best country to be a women? Iceland, for the fifth year running, has the world’s smallest gender gap.
The 397-page Index was introduced in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress.

It benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria. It provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups and over time.

The rankings are designed to build among a global audience greater awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them.
Iceland’s ranking means it is where women enjoy the most equivalent access to education and healthcare and where they are most likely to be able to participate fully in the country's political and economic life.
Iceland is joined at the top of the The Global Gender Gap Report, 2013 by its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Overall, the gender gap narrowed slightly across the globe in 2013, as 86 of 133 countries showed improvements.
However, "change is definitely slow," says Saadia Zahidi, one of the report's authors.
From BBC News Online
In summing up the report, Zahidi tells BBC News Online Europe has seven countries in the top 10. The UK is 18th and the U.S. is 23rd.
The Philippines, at fifth, is the highest-ranking Asian nation and Nicaragua is the highest-placed country from the Americas, at 10th.
The G20 group of leading industrial nations has no representative in the top 10, nor does the Middle East or Africa.

Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is where some of the greatest gender inequalities exist, the report says.
But the picture is far from uniform.
For instance, the Gulf states have tended to invest heavily in female education, with a reverse gender gap taking place in the United Arab Emirates. Many more women than men are now finishing university here. This contrasts with countries like Yemen, where levels of female education are very low.
MENA closed 59% of its overall gender gap in 2013. Compared to 2006, the region shows a very slight improvement, despite the fact that the Middle East region witnessed a fall in its overall score compared to last year.
The region ranks the lowest on the Economic Participation and Opportunity and Political Empowerment sub-indexes with, respectively, only 39% and 7% of the gender gap being closed.
From BBC News Online
Thirteen of the 20 lowest performing countries on the Labor force participation indicator are from the region as are 11 of the lowest on the Estimated earned income indicator. Seven of the lowest countries on the Political Empowerment sub-index are also from MENA.
The highest-ranking economies of the region have made vast investments in increasing women’s education levels in the last decades.
In Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Algeria, Oman, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, the tertiary education enrolment rates for women are higher than those of men. However, these countries have had varying degrees of success at integrating women into the economy and in decision-making in order to reap the benefits of this investment. Six out of the 10 high-income countries that rank the lowest on the overall Index are from the region.
The UAE (109) continues to hold the top position among the Arab countries and is the only country from the region that has fully closed the educational attainment gap.

However, it falls two places in the overall ranking this year because of a decrease on the Wage equality for similar work and in the Estimated earned income indicators.

From the Global Gender Gap Index report
The UAE ranks sixth on the Literacy rate indicator and seventh on the Enrolment in primary education indicator.

The UAE is followed by Bahrain (112), Qatar (115), Kuwait (116) and Jordan (119).

Qatar maintains the same overall ranking as last year although there has been a small improvement in the overall score. Qatar ranks the highest of the region on the Estimated earned income indicator but the lowest of the region on the Healthy life expectancy indicator.

Kuwait falls seven spots this year because of losses in the Labor force participation, Wage equality for similar work and Estimated earned income indicators.

Jordan moves up two places. Its improvements are driven by gains in the Educational Attainment and Political Empowerment sub-indexes.

Next are Oman (122), Lebanon (123) and Algeria (124).

Oman ascends three places relative to its 125th position in the 2012 ranking thanks to gains on the Economic Participation and Opportunity and Educational Attainment sub-indexes. Oman obtains the best score from the region on the Wage equality for similar work indicator.

From the Global Gender Gap Index report
Lebanon moves down one place this year. Lebanon is one of the two regional countries that has fully closed its heath and survival gender gap.

Women’s Education

Some countries that have made the key investments in women’s education but have generally not removed barriers to women’s participation in the workforce and are thus not seeing returns on their investments in the development of one half of their human capital.

This group includes Japan, the UAE and Brazil. They have an untapped but educated talent pool and would have much to gain through women’s greater participation in the workforce.

A report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Countries found that restricting job opportunities for women is costing the region between $42 and $46 billion a year.

Research by the World Bank demonstrates that similar restrictions have also imposed massive costs throughout the Middle East, where decades of substantial investment have dramatically reduced the gender gap in education but the gender gap in economic opportunity remains the widest in the world.

Gender equality vs. women’s empowerment

The third distinguishing feature of the Global Gender Gap Index is that it ranks countries according to their proximity to gender equality rather than to women’s empowerment.

Its focus is on whether the gap between women and men in the chosen indicators has declined, rather than whether women are “winning” the “battle of the sexes.”

Hence, the Index rewards countries that reach the point where outcomes for women equal those for men, but it neither rewards nor penalizes cases in which women are outperforming men in particular indicators.

So, are we all moving to Iceland? Probably not just yet…

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A honk in support of Saudi women drivers

The October 26th Women Driving Campaign that was due to hold a drive-in today in Saudi Arabia to try and end the ban against women driving in the Kingdom, has been dropped after threats of legal actions against anyone getting behind the wheel.

However, the ongoing battle Saudi women are waging for their right to drive, though no specific law bans such a right, continues with a call for an open-ended campaign.

“Out of caution and respect for the Saudi Interior Ministry’s warnings… we are asking women not to drive and on October 26 and to change the initiative from an October 26 campaign to an open driving campaign, activist Najla Al Hariri told AFP.
Women in Saudi Arabia have been attempting to get the driving ban lifted since 1990, when around 40 women drove their cars down a main street in Riyadh. They were stopped by police and a number of them were suspended from work. The women were widely condemned in religious sermons and social circles. The then Grand Mufti, the kingdom’s highest religious authority, also issued a fatwa against women driving followed by a formal directive by the Minister of Interior banning women from driving.

In 2011, women activists re-launched an Internet campaign calling on women with international driver licenses to take to the roads in defiance of the ban. Scores of women got behind the wheel to support the campaign.
Some were arrested as a result and were made to sign pledges that they would refrain from driving in future.
In September 2011, one female driver was tried and sentenced to 10 lashes. Her sentence was eventually overturned in April 2012.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Although there is no official law, a ministerial decree in 1990 formalized an existing de facto ban and women who attempt to drive face arrest. Women cannot be issued driving licenses either.
Religious objections took a knock when, for example, one leading Saudi cleric warned women who drive cars could cause damage to their ovaries and pelvises and were at risk of having children born with “clinical problems.”
But two weeks ago – specifically on October 10 – the October 26th Women Driving Campaign got a spectacular shot in the arm from the kingdom’s most prominent media figure Abdul-Rahman al-Rashed, who is the general manager of Saudi-owned Alarabiya TV news channel.
Writing for the kingdom’s newspaper of records Asharq Alawsat, Rashed opined: “The novelty is not to grant women the right to sit behind the wheel. The newness is that the request to uphold this right was made by three Saudi women members of the Shura Council…
“Whether the government listens to their recommendation or not, the issue of women driving has become a major one involving Saudi public opinion. To avoid upholding women’s right to drive is costly for everyone, both economically and politically.
“Don’t forget, the ban does not hold water anymore. The government sends tens of thousands of female students to major universities abroad, including Harvard and Cambridge, then prevents them from driving in their home country.”
Personally, I cannot imagine being forbidden to drive.
I may choose not to drive, as I did during my 20 years living in London. It was a purely financial decision. The cost of petrol, the congestion charge and parking costs alone would have eaten up my salary. Plus, public transport was often quicker. But I still had my driving license with me at all times, just in case.
I still remember the feeling -- at 18 -- of getting my driving license and then my first car (a red mini that broke down two days later and had to be returned). Pure bliss!
And one of the first things I did on arriving in Dubai seven years ago was own a car.

The Saudi Interior Ministry of Interior on Wednesday warned organizers of the October 26th Women Driving Campaign, whose site has been hacked, that group gatherings and marches are illegal.
Officials also warned the Kingdom’s strict codes against political dissent on the Internet will be applied to anyone offering online support for a planned protest by women challenging the male-only driving rules.
One Saudi woman who is part of the campaign explains the situation in a post on LiveWire, Amnesty International’s human rights blog.
Under the title “Society’ is no longer an excuse for Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving,” Eman Al Nafjan (@Saudiwoman) -- who was arrested by police on October 10 in Riyadh while filming another woman as she was driving and breaking the ban -- writes:
If there was one word to describe what it is like to be a Saudi woman, it would be the word patronizing. No matter how long you live, you remain a minor in the eyes of the government.
In Saudi Arabia we take patriarchy to the extreme. The fact that the culture, like many others around the world, is male-dominated is not the major challenge. The real challenge is that the government has allowed this patriarchy to dictate how it deals with citizens. Female citizens are assigned a legal male guardian from her immediate relatives. This male guardian can legally marry her off as a child to a man decades her senior. He can also legally and easily ban her from education, work and marriage. He has to pre-approve any international travel officially. Since basic education is free and college education comes with a stipend paid by the government to all public college students, most male guardians prefer to send their daughters to school. Yet in those cases where the male guardian chooses to imprison his female ward at home, the legal system makes it almost impossible for her to be able to get away.
The de facto ban on women driving is one of the main things that perpetuates this governmental patriarchy. Currently there is no public transportation system available. You cannot walk to the corner and catch a bus or take the subway except in Mecca. Thus for any woman to get from point A to point B, she doesn’t only have to buy a car but convince a male relative or employ a man from Southeast Asia to drive that car. This day-to-day obstacle has proven to be a demoralizing deterrent for many women from pursuing an education, a career and even maintaining their own healthcare.
When government officials are asked about the driving ban, they respond that there is no legal or Islamic basis for it and that it is only socially maintained. The King himself stated so. Others who have made similar statements include the Minister of Justice, the Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and the Chief of Traffic Police. Yet when a woman gets behind the wheel of her car, it isn’t society that stops her but the police. In many cases the woman is then taken to the nearest police station and her male guardian is called. The woman and her guardian are both made to sign pledges to ensure that this case of driving while female is not repeated.
There have been several attempts since 1990 to try to lift this ban on women driving. Among them were proposals sent to the Shura Council by Dr Mohammad Al Zulfa in 2006 and another by Abdullah Al Alami in 2012. Both were not even allowed to be discussed on the floor of the council. There have also been several petitions and requests sent to the Royal Court, which mostly failed to get a response. There were also campaigns to get women just to go out and drive. And they too were met with more of a response from the government than from society.
"[Saudi] Officials can no longer use the 'society' excuse"
In 1990, 47 women got into their cars and drove and the government responded with job suspensions and travel bans. In June 2011, Manal Al Sharif made a Youtube video asking women to join her in driving their own cars and was imprisoned for over a week for it.
Thus the October 26th Women Driving Campaign is the most recent campaign to try to resolve the women driving ban. What makes this campaign special is that it’s the first real civil movement to occur in Saudi Arabia. There is no face to the movement. The petition was written by more than 30 people, many of whom do not know each other.
The first couple of days the petition went public, we were still accepting revisions to the text. It was only finalized on the third day. Everyone who signs the petition is considered not only an organizer but a leader who can take the initiative to act in the name of the campaign. The campaign itself has Youtube channels and an Instagram account for signatories to upload their driving videos, photos and even just to talk or make a statement through art. Through these means, the campaign aims not only to call on the government to quit its ambiguity regarding the ban but also to demonstrate that officials can no longer use the “society” excuse.
Ian Black, The Guardian’s Middle East editor, writes in an article published Friday that “three female members of the Shura [advisory] Council -- among 30 who were appointed in January by the 90-year-old King Abdullah -- recommended this month that the ban be rescinded, though no debate has yet taken place. Latifa al-Shaalan, Haya al-Mani and Muna al-Mashit urged the council to ‘recognize the rights of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia [Islamic law] and traffic laws.’
“The three -- praised by supporters for ‘stirring the stagnant water’ -- framed their argument with careful references to fatwas (religious edicts) banning women from being in the company of an unrelated male (such as a driver). Other suggestions designed to reassure critics are appointing female traffic police and driving instructors. Cost is another big factor with families having to employ chauffeurs, as is convenience.”
But Black notes: “Signs of powerful opposition, however, are still easy to detect. This week 150 clerics and religious scholars held a rare public protest outside King Abdullah's palace in Jeddah to object to ‘westernization’ and ‘the conspiracy of women driving,’ blaming the U.S. -- a byword in traditionalist circles for anything distasteful or immoral -- for being behind the campaign.”
A female Saudi activist to Amnesty International
Amnesty International says it is “astonishing that in the 21st century, Saudi authorities continue to deny women the right to legally drive a car.
“The driving ban is inherently discriminatory and demeaning to women and must be overturned immediately. It is completely unacceptable for the authorities to stand in the way of activists planning to campaign against it,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program.
“Instead of repressing the initiative, the authorities must immediately lift the ban to ensure that women are never again arrested or punished simply for being behind the wheel of a car.”
Amnesty adds: “At present women in Saudi Arabia are dependent on men to carry out simple daily tasks requiring transport. Lifting the ban would allow women to drive to work or university and enable mothers to take their children to schools.”
Referring to today’s actions, Eman Al Nafjan is quoted by AFP as saying, “the date was only symbolic, and women have begun driving before and will continue to drive after October 26.”
I will be thinking of the many Saudi women trying to break the ban, today or on any other day, as I get into my car to go to work.
Good luck ladies. You will win!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Human Rights: 65 years on

Article I of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

It is 65 years since the declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly as the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are essentially entitled. It is thus sad to see freedom, equality, dignity and other basic rights still lacking in so many of our region’s countries.

Human Rights is this year’s theme of Blog Action Day when thousands of bloggers -- bloggers, podcasters, photographers, graphic designers, cartoonists, data geeks, tumblers and social media types -- from all over the world come together to talk about one important issue.

Previously, Blog Action Day focused on such issues as the Environment (2007), Poverty (2008), Climate Change (2009), Water (2010), Food (2011) and the Power of We (2012).

It is perhaps coincidental, but there has rarely been a time when human rights are so needed, whether in the Levant or globally. It is as if humans have lost their humanity to react to the events unfolding around them.

The upheavals in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region since January 2010 – including Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and chiefly Syria -- have put paid to human rights. And in Palestine, they have been flouted throughout the past 65 years.

According to the 1948 Universal Declaration, “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible…

“International human rights law lays down obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups…

“Human rights are inalienable. They should not be taken away, except in specific situations and according to due process. For example, the right to liberty may be restricted if a person is found guilty of a crime by a court of law.

“All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education, or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others…

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

“Human rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights. The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfill means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others.”

The UN General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

Reading through the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration, I didn’t find a single one being upheld in either Palestine or Syria among others. Can you?

Isn’t it time we put back the Rights in Human?

Previous Blog Action Day posts:

Food for thought -- October 16, 2011

A bucket of water -- October 15, 2010

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Much prayers on Eid al-Adha

Spotted at the Coop, Safa Park:  Ready for Eid al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice
More than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide will today celebrate Eid al-Adha at the end of Hajj.

It is a time of celebration, but also one to think of those less fortunate.

My prayers and thoughts go to a dear friend who is battling sickness. They are also with those not celebrating due to illness, war and poverty.

I wrote extensively about Eid al-Adha in a post two years ago, but here again is what Hajj and Eid al-Adha is all about for those new to Mich Café and to the customs of the region.

Literally, Hajj means “to set out for a place." For Muslims, that place is the Holy City of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

Muslims worldwide celebrate Eid al-Adha to commemorate the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead. Hence the sacrifice of a lamb, a goat, a cow or a camel on Eid al-Adha.

The sacrificial meat is divided into three parts: one-third for the family; another third for relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third to the poor and needy.

Eid al-Adha is celebrated annually on the 10th day of the 12th and last Muslim month of Dhu al-Hijjah of the lunar Islamic calendar. Celebrations start after the Hajj, when Muslims descend from Mount Arafat.

Pilgrims at Mount Arafat (Photo via Saudi Ministry of Hajj)
Mount Arafat, about 70 meters high, is a granite hill to the east of Mecca. It was on Mount Arafat that Adam and Eve, separated for 200 years following their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, recognized each other and were reunited. There too God forgave them for their transgression. It is where pilgrims must spend an afternoon in a state of Ihram.

It is professed that when Abraham was ready to return to Canaan he was to leave behind his wife Hajar and baby son. Hajar asked him, “Did God order you to leave us here? Or are you leaving us here to die.” Abraham was so sad he fell silent but pointed to the sky. Hajar said, “Then God will not waste us; you can go.”

The Zamzam Well
Soon Hajar's meager provisions of dates and water ran out and both mother and child became thirsty. Hajar was desperate to find water. She ran up and down between two hills -- Al-Safa and Al-Marwah -- seven times in her desperate quest. Exhausted, she finally collapsed beside her baby and prayed to God for deliverance. Miraculously, a spring of water gushed forth from the earth at the feet of baby Ishmael. With this secure water supply, known as the Zamzam Well, they were not only able to provide for their own needs, but were also able to trade water with passing nomads in exchange for food and supplies.

Years later, Abraham was instructed by God to return from Canaan to build a place of worship adjacent to Hajar's well. Abraham and Ishmael constructed a stone and mortar structure -- known as the Kaaba. It was to be the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in God.
One of the main trials of Abraham's life, at 99, was to fulfill God’s command to devote his dearest possession, his then only son Ishmael, 13. Upon hearing this command, he prepared to submit to God's will. During this preparation, Satan tried to dissuade Abraham and his family from carrying out God's commandment, but they drove Satan away by throwing pebbles at him. In commemoration of their rejection of Satan, stones are thrown at symbolic pillars signifying Satan during the Hajj rites.

As a reward for this sacrifice, God then granted Abraham the good news of the birth of his second son, Isaac: “And We gave him the good news of Ishaaq, a prophet from among the righteous.”
Muslims commemorate Abraham’s ultimate act of sacrifice during Eid al-Adha.

Ishmael married the daughter of the chief of the Banu Jurhum, a tribe that had settled in the Mecca valley. When Ibrahim died, Ishmael continued to perform Hajj each year and to look after the Kaaba.

Pilgrims circumbulating the Kaaba (Saudi Ministry of Hajj)
After Ishmael, the Kaaba came into the possession of the Banu Jurhum tribe for many centuries until the Khuza'ah tribe took it over. Throughout this period, the Kaaba was vulnerable to flooding and was virtually destroyed.

Seeing the Kaaba in a state of disrepair, Qusay bin Kilaab, of the Quraysh tribe, rebuilt it, according to the original design but adding a roof to protect it from the extremes of weather. Qusay, born around 400 CE, was renowned for his wisdom.

The starting point for the circumambulation of the Holy Kaaba is where Abraham placed the Black Stone in the eastern corner. The Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad) was brought from Paradise by Archangel Gabriel and was set into one corner of the Kaaba.

In the course of their Hajj, pilgrims will kiss or touch the Black Stone because the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) kissed it. On the roof of the Kaaba is a gilded waterspout (al-Masabb) protruding from the northwestern wall.

The station of Abraham or Maqam Ibrahim (Saudi Ministry of Hajj)
To complete the upper part of the Kaaba walls, Abraham stood on a large stone block, which he moved along when each section was completed. When the Kaaba was finished, the large stone block was left outside, close to the eastern wall of the sanctuary. It became known as the Maqam Ibrahim (the station of Abraham).

Nearly opposite the Black Stone, near the Maqam Ibrahim, is the Zamzam Well.

The Kaaba, is a large stone structure constituting a single room with a marble floor. It lies at the heart of the Holy Mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram). It stands some 60 feet high and each side is approximately 60 feet in length. The four walls of the Kaaba are covered with a black drape that is 45x135 feet -- the Kiswah.

Every year, a new Kiswah is prepared, embroidered in gold thread with the Shahadah and verses from Qur'an and carried to Mecca by pilgrims. A recent estimate of producing the Kiswah each year put the cost at about $4.5 million. During the Hajj, the black Kiswah is replaced by a white cloth, matching the white robes of the pilgrims. At the end of Hajj, the newly woven Kiswah is placed over the Kaaba. The old one is cut into small pieces and given to pilgrims from different Muslim countries.

I wish all my readers celebrating the occasion a happy, healthy and blessed Eid al-Adha.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Educate girls for a better world

Today, October 11, marks the second International Day of the Girl Child.

The United Nations declared October 11, 2012, the first Day of the Girl to focus attention on girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. This year's observation targets their education.

Some decades ago, aged eight or nine, I was given the choice of either doing well at school or being a housemaid. My mom took me out of school for three days to show me how it would compare. I was back at school after the second.

Although my dreams and ambitions of higher education were quashed by the Lebanon civil war, I have since been a strong supporter of education in general, but especially girls’ education. Having worked since age 12, I am also a firm believer in the woman’s role in the workplace and global economy.

Girls face discrimination and violence every day across the world. The International Day of the Girl Child – designated on December 19, 2011 in UN General Assembly Resolution 66/170 -- focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.

The fulfillment of girls’ right to education is first and foremost an obligation and moral imperative.

There is also overwhelming evidence that girls’ education, especially at the secondary level, is a powerful transformative force for societies and girls themselves. It is the one consistent positive determinant of practically every desired development outcome, from reductions in mortality and fertility, to poverty reduction and equitable growth, to social norm change and democratization.

While there has been significant progress in improving girls’ access to education over the last two decades, many girls -- particularly the most marginalized -- continue to be deprived of this basic right, according to the United Nations.

Girls in many countries are still unable to attend school and complete their education due to safety-related, financial, institutional and cultural barriers. Even when girls are in school, perceived low returns from the poor quality of education, low aspirations, or household chores and other responsibilities keep them from attending school or from achieving adequate learning outcomes. The transformative potential for girls and societies promised through girls’ education is yet to be realized.

Recognizing the need for fresh and creative perspectives to propel girls’ education, the 2013 International Day of the Girl Child will address the importance of new technology as well as innovation in partnerships, policies, resource utilization, community mobilization, and most of all, the engagement of young people themselves.

Examples of possible steps include:
  • Improved public and private means of transportation for girls to get to school -- from roads, buses, mopeds, bicycles to boats and canoes;
  • Collaboration between school systems and the banking industry to facilitate secure and convenient pay delivery to female teachers and scholarship delivery to girls;
  • Provision of science and technology courses targeted at girls in schools, universities and vocational education programs;
  • Corporate mentorship programs to help girls acquire critical work and leadership skills and facilitate their transition from school to work;
  • Revisions of school curricula to integrate positive messages on gender norms related to violence, child marriage, sexual and reproductive health, and male and female family roles;
  • Deploying mobile technology for teaching and learning to reach girls, especially in remote areas.
Raise your hand

To mark International Day of the Girl Child today, a UK charity calls on nations to urgently prioritize quality education for girls as an essential factor in tackling crippling poverty.

Malala Yousafzai and actress Frida Pinto raise their hands

Plan UK, a global children’s charity founded 75 years ago, has a petition running to call on the United Nations to make girls’ education a priority in its new development agenda. The “Raise Your Hand” petition has reached over one million hands raised and is now aiming for four million.

Plan works with the world’s poorest children so they can move themselves from a life of poverty to a future with opportunity.

Globally, it is estimated 65 million girls are out of school, with one in five adolescent girls around denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence. Disasters and emergencies can make these problems worse.

Supporting girls’ education is one of the single best investments a government can make to help end poverty and give hope to girls, otherwise denied their rights and aspirations, Plan says.

Plan UK is celebrating the worldwide support shown for the petition on the first anniversary of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai who has become a global spokesperson on the subject since she was shot by the Taliban in October 2012 for going to school.

Malala is just one of the many people around the globe to have raised her hand for our Because I Am A Girl campaign. The petition has now reached 1.5 million signatures and will be presented to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign aims to support four million girls to stay in education and fulfill their potential.

Plan’s campaign will be in London’s Trafalgar Square today from 10.30 a.m to unveil a giant “erasable” billboard to remind the world that every girl has a right to go to school.

Plan will also be “pinkifying” monuments around the world for the second year running on International Day of the Girl. Monuments including the Empire State Building will be glowing pink in support of girls’ education.

It believes girls hold the power to help break the cycle of poverty. With education, skills and the right support, girls can make choices over their own future and be a huge part of creating lasting change. An educated girl is...
  • less likely to marry and to have children whilst she is still a child.
  • more likely to be literate, healthy and survive into adulthood, as are her children.
  • more likely to reinvest her income back into her family, community and country.
Child marriage

Last year’s Day focused on child marriage, which is a fundamental human rights violation and impacts all aspects of a girl’s life. Child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk to be a victim of violence and abuse and jeopardizes her health.

Globally, around one in three young women aged 20-24 years were first married before they reached age 18. One third of them entered into marriage before they turned 15. Child marriage results in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks for girls. In developing countries, 90 per cent of births to adolescents aged 15-19 are to married girls, and pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for girls in this age group.

Girls with low levels of schooling are more likely to be married early, and child marriage has been shown to virtually end a girl’s education. Conversely, girls with secondary schooling are up to six times less likely to marry as children, making education one of the best strategies for protecting girls and combating child marriage.

Preventing child marriage will protect girls’ rights and help reduce their risks of violence, early pregnancy, HIV infection, and maternal death and disability, including obstetric fistula. When girls are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, they can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families and participate in the progress of their nations.

Related posts:

March 8: Education can win the future -- March 06, 2012