Current Events

Human Rights Day Spotlights Global Education of Women

By Marcus Hennessy, CEA

Our world has no excuse for blocking women’s fundamental right to get an education.
Female Studies Text
That was the take-home message at last month’s United Nations Human Rights Day, which used a series of events around the world to focus on basic rights and especially the rights of girls and women to become educated.

The Human Rights Day theme of “Inclusion and the Right to Participate in Public Life” coordinated events on multiple continents. Featured guest speakers included Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the renowned Myanmar political activist who recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A Salute to Women’s Education

In conjunction with Human Rights Day events in New York, the U.N.’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, France, introduced a highly publicized program to support girls’ and women’s education worldwide. The initiative pays tribute to Malala Yousafzai, the courageous 15-year-old girl shot by the Taliban to silence her advocacy for the education of women in her native Pakistan.

The “Stand up for Malala–Girls’ Education is a Right” movement seeks to promote the efforts of girls and women around the world to obtain an education. Speakers at the Paris event included Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General; Asif Ali Zardari, president of Pakistan; and Gordon Brown, the U.N. special envoy for global education.

“We will not educate the world’s children if we do not educate their mothers, if we do not reach the world’s 500 million illiterate women,” Bokova said at the event in Paris. “We cannot build peace and democracy on foundations of illiteracy and exclusion.”

Participants adopted a “Statement of Commitment to Girls’ Rights to Education,” which strives “to make every effort to end all forms of violence against girls and to eliminate the obstacles that prevent them from attending school.” The statement was endorsed by dignitaries from Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

Women’s Voices Will not be Stifled

Michelle Bachelet, executive director of the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, said the voices of too many women and girls are stifled by discrimination, threats and violence. “This is holding back progress for women and for all members of society,” she said. “Women’s participation is fundamental for sustainable development, peace and democracy. It is time to remove the barriers to women’s full and equal participation in the economy, in politics and in public life.”

President Zardari announced that Pakistan was setting the bar with the first $10 million donation.

Educational Priorities Set

The 2012 Human Rights Day events, which were held on December 10, gave added impetus to the “Education First” initiative announced three months earlier by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the General Assembly’s 67th meeting.

Education First has four major priorities:

  • Putting every child in school. Today, more than 61 million children are still deprived of their basic human right to education.
  • Improving the quality of learning. It is estimated that about 250 million children cannot read, write or count well, even after several years in school.
  • Fostering global citizenship. That includes making governments and organizations aware of the obstacles faced by girls and women as they seek an education.
  • Closing financial gaps. The goal is to increase global investments in the school systems of impoverished countries by at least $24 billion per year, and set a standard of 5-6 percent of GDP investment in every country’s education budget.

Human Rights Day is observed every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations adopted on December 10, 1948. The Declaration, which has been translated into more than 380 languages (a “Guinness Book” world record), is viewed as a de facto contract between governments and citizens, especially those segments of society considered the most vulnerable, such as the disabled, indigenous peoples, migrant workers and women.

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