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International Women’s Day 2015: “Make It Happen” - Gender equality for a sustainable future

Girls LA credit CLADEOn Sunday 8th March, citizens around the world will mark International Women's Day. The theme for this year is “Make it happen: encouraging effective action for advancing and recognising women.” A day to celebrate, but also to acknowledge and attempt to tackle the huge inequalities facing girls and women. There is not one country in the world where women have achieved full equality and full enjoyment of their rights – and that includes the right to education.

The impact of education on the lives of girls and women cannot be overstated. It can break the cycle of poverty and inequality within families, communities and societies. Educating girls and young women literally saves lives – it leads to safer childbirth (reduced maternal mortality), reduced child marriage, fewer child deaths, higher rates of childhood immunisation and better nutrition. Accessing secondary-level education yields profound benefits, which have a multiplying effect on society. The statistics are sobering: If all girls had a secondary education, there would be two-thirds fewer child marriages. Having a mother with some secondary education more than halves the risk of child mortality in many countries. Just one extra year of secondary school can increase a girl’s potential income by up to 25%. As well as improving life outcomes economically, education can empower women so that they are less vulnerable to exploitation. And the results span generations.

Despite these facts, approximately 15 million girls are expected to never gain access to schooling. The effects of any existing barrier to access the right to education, such as ethnicity, disability, wealth, location, are further compounded by being female. This year, as the deadline for the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals draws ever closer, it’s clear that the world will have failed to meet the targets on education and gender set back in 2000. Almost two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population are female; that’s 496.3 million women. Gender parity, gender equality, increased adult literacy by 50%, universal primary education – there is still so much work to do before these goals are realised. However, significant progress has been made, and the promises made 15 years ago have played an important part in that. The gender gap in education has narrowed, and huge gains have been made towards reaching gender parity in school enrolment in all developing regions - particularly at primary school level. More girls are in school than ever before.

Activists, governments and global institutions have taken stock of the progress and shortcomings. Now is the time for action. Later this year, at the World Education Forum in May and at the United Nations in New York in September, States will make renewed promises to the world, in the form of a new Education For All (EFA) agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Civil society and the international community must take advantage of this key juncture to ensure that future generations of women are not left behind when it comes to accessing their fundamental human rights.  Education must remain a priority in the development agenda. Its transformative power to accelerate the achievement of other goals – including gender equality - must not be overlooked. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon concluded in his message for this year’s International Women’s Day:  “To be truly transformative, the post-2015 development agenda must prioritise gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The world will never realise 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realise their full potential.  When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all.

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For more information on what's happening this International Women's Day in countries around the world, visit the official site: www.internationalwomensday.com

A new interactive data tool from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) on Girls’ Education in Africa, released for International Women’s Day, is available here in English, French and Spanish