12 August 2019
Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for International Youth Day, 2019: Transforming education for a new generation of leaders
Sixteen-year old Gambian Jakomba Jabbie wants to be an aerospace engineer. A vocal advocate for girls’ education, she created a robotics team at school to show that girls can also participate in the area of technology, and “to make it a space for all of us”. She knows how important education is, especially to a girl. She told us, “It allows you to develop confidence in yourself, showcase your talents, and speak up for your rights”. And she pointed out the crucial role of teachers, whose support can help girls take science and mathematics classes even if they are nervous whether their families would approve. “Girls need to be told they can be anything they want to be”, she told us in March this year.
At UN Women, we see girls’ education as an opportunity that offers many potential gains with no drawbacks. Yet, around the world, girls continue to be left behind in education because of household duties like caring for siblings while their mother works, or even having to take responsibility for their own household as child brides. Cultural barriers like bias against girls amongst educators or physical limitations like inadequate sanitation facilities can disastrously affect their access to schoolrooms and safety during the school day. These effects can be compounded for young women and girls living with disabilities, or those in indigenous communities, refugee camps or other situations of vulnerability. In conflict contexts, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than their counterparts in non-conflict countries, resulting in generations of lost potential and opportunity.
For young women and girls especially, as Jakomba knows, a quality education can enable them to claim their rights, to stand up against discrimination and violence and to develop the skills that lead them to financial autonomy. Comprehensive sexuality education is crucial for girls’ ability to understand their bodies and make decisions about their health care, including their sexual and reproductive health. According to a recent report from The World Bank, achieving universal secondary education would virtually eliminate child marriage and reduce the prevalence of early childbearing by up to three quarters.
Truly transforming education means making learning accessible to all young people, regardless of their access to a physical classroom and better integrating technology into education, including through the use of mobile devices, so that girls can connect to educational materials wherever they are.
We also need to overturn the deeply rooted stereotypes and social norms that see girls as less deserving of an education, or that keep them from learning the critical STEM and ICT skills needed to excel in the jobs of the future.
Education helps young women and girls become fully engaged citizens. We need this more than ever. We are counting on young people to disrupt the status quo and to push for transformative policies that shape the future they envision, as young leaders, allies and advocates for gender equality. By educating and working alongside the next generation, we can support a more inclusive, sustainable and equal future for all people.