World Assembly Remarks by Director of UNGEI

Nora Fyles is the Head of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI). Before joining UNGEI, Nora worked for the Canadian International Development worked as Education Team Leader and Senior Education Advisor. Prior to that, you have worked in many countries including Belize, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Pakistan with a focus on education, literacy, skills development and gender. You have an interesting background for such an organisation and we will be pleased to listen to you.


Thanks for inviting me here. I have been asked to offer few words about gender equality in education and its role in your aim of transforming global education to equitable, just and inclusive.

Before I start, a few words about UNGEI – a sister partnership, a movement, committed to gender equality in education, launched in 2000 in World Education Forum. Many of you are represented on our Board and Advisory Committee, through the representation of the regional Secretariats of ASPBAE, ANCEFA, CLADE, and members of the NCs of national civil society activists.

Yesterday, WB withdrew $300 million loan to Tanzania based on concerns of policy of expelling pregnant girls from school. The money was intended to help the Education Ministry to improve access to secondary education. However, as stated by the WB, the Bank supports policies that encourage girls’ education, so it is possible for young girls to study in schools until reach full potential. The message went on to say that the economic and social returns for girls finishing their education are high in every society for both current and future generations. It is unusual for me to speak of the WB in a forum like this, but it reminds us that stakes are high and what is at stake when we talk about girls’ education.


The reality of pregnant school girls, in Tanzania and worldwide, makes gender inequality immediate and personal. Policies that so explicitly exclude girls from school and reinforce gender and social norms bring us face to face with the challenge of the commitment we made in 2015 to SDG 5 and 4. Today, with aim of transforming of public education system for equality, inclusion and justice, we clearly have a long way to go.


We know the transformative potential of girls’ education to make a real change in the lives of the girls, their families and society at large. We know the transformative potential of quality gender-responsive education to change the way learners: girls and boys, young men and women think and behave. But to get there, education and education systems must change. What does this mean?


Let me share a few thoughts:

We must start by taking a careful look at the entire educational system and bringing a gender lens to understand not only students flows but also education management – how we plan, set policy, create budgets, and monitoring and implementation. It is a new mindset. And in fact, the core global institutions designed to support the countries to do education sector planning are just learning to do this. How to integrate gender into their work? Civil society, on the other hand, can play a critical role in promoting gender responses. And I’ve experienced that over the last 2 years as I worked with 28 countries, delegations including CS and the critical role they play to focus on gender elements and sector planning.


Additional funding is critical but not enough. Governments must allocate targeted resources towards building gender equitable systems to ensure access, retention and learning for all girls and boys including secondary education and beyond. Yesterday, Nepal NCE demonstrated its profound capacity to monitor implementation of education budget. In the report they presented, I was struck that no funds had been allocated to the budget for uniforms. You may not have noticed that, but the budget for uniforms has been shown to contribute to girls remaining in school. But we notice that no budget for that one. We have much to learn about gender budgeting from members here such as FAWE and other sectors and those who lead women’s movements.


Women teachers at all levels of education system including upper secondary and university. We must ensure they are present at all levels and in math, science and technology as well as language arts. Only then will girls see themselves as scientists and mathematicians and help build the knowledge economies, which we know are the way of the future. Women teachers must also be placed in remote and rural areas, not only in capital cities, so that remote and rural families feel confident to send their girls to school, and girls too can recognise that women can have a profession. This may have policy and budget allocations to ensure male and female teachers in all schools are safe and supported.

We must teach differently, engaging boys and girls equitably to the best of their ability and creating opportunities for all students, male and female, to practice empathy, agency and leadership. We must revise our textbooks to portray women men in full range of occupations and activities – pilots, caregivers, sportspeople and artists, with a range of abilities. This way we, students and educators alike, can help create a vision of world of opportunity for all. We must provide space for women in leadership in schools and in the management for education systems. In some places, I have recently learnt, this means creating a women’s bathroom in the Ministry of Education office. And in others, we need to introduce progressive hiring practices so schools and mainstream education can benefit from diverse perspectives and approaches which men and women can bring. It may also require gender champions such as those here. Gender champions in high positions set an example and open new doors.


Education must not work alone. Many gender and education issues go beyond what is seem to be the limit and control of Ministries of Education. Early pregnancy, child marriage and gender-based violence in and around schools including bullying and other gang violence have a direct impact on schools, students, teachers and parents. A range of approaches are possible and you know many of them. Re-entry policies for girls after giving birth, teacher professional development, codes of conduct, safe reporting mechanisms, parents outreach, girls and boys club, inclusion of sexuality education in the core curriculum. These are key to addressing head on negative gender and social norms, which reinforce gender violence and discriminatory practices.


Creating safe and supportive learning spaces for all girls and boys, men and women is not just technical but fundamentally political for it requires that we recognise and dismantle power dynamics that uphold unjust inequitable societies. This is your area of expertise: The politics of education. So, we, UNGEI and GCE have much to learn from and contribute to each other and many opportunities to stand together in our common campaign to transform public education systems for equality, education and justice. Thank you very much.

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