The human right to education is unequivocally enshrined in core international agreements and treaties including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Discrimination in Education, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the International Convention on the Elimination Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
Despite the widespread global recognition of the right to education, the international community as a whole is not on track to meet the most fundamental education target of achieving universal primary education. Fifty-nine million children of primary school age and sixty-five million adolescents are not in school today, the majority of whom are girls (UNESCO Institute for Statistics [UIS]). The gender gap in accessing and completing quality education is clearly illustrated by female illiteracy rates: almost two thirds of the seven hundred and fifty-seven million illiterate people in the world are women, 59% of whom are girls aged 15-24 years (UIS). Graduate Women International (GWI) believes that literacy is more than just an exclusive privilege for the worlds wealthy. Literacy is a fundamental life skill and a key component of the right to education; it is the cornerstone of personal autonomy, social inclusion and economic empowerment. Full realisation of the human right to education, however, must extend beyond the provision of basic literacy and numeracy skills developed at primary level, and should also include critical life skills including financial and digital literacy.
Poverty and illiteracy are not the only hurdles facing girls and women in their pursuit of equal access to quality education, in particular secondary education. Other barriers include:
- Harmful practices that specifically target girls and adolescent young women including early, forced and child marriages, which often see the young brides removed from education;
- Threats of physical or sexual violence, bullying or harassment, while travelling to or from school or while on school premises;
- A lack of suitable and safe sanitation facilities, which often result in girls staying at home during menstruation;
- Living in conflict zones: where instruction may have been suspended, where it is unsafe to access schools or where students have been displaced;
- A need to travel significant distances to reach secondary school, particularly in rural areas; Curricula that do not meet the specific linguistic or other needs of girls from certain vulnerable groups, including ethnic and indigenous minorities;
- Multiple barriers to the education of disabled girls, including inaccessible or difficult to access premises and facilities, as well as ill-adapted teaching methods;
- A shortage of female teachers or female-only schools in places where sex segregation is required for girls to attend schools; and
- Cultural prejudice regarding the role of women in society that prevents girls from accessing education due to a responsibility to undertake domestic duties and caregiving.
GWI affirms and emphasises the right to education as a standalone international human right and an enabler of numerous other human rights, which must be promoted, protected and provided to all people without discrimination. Education is a catalyst for multisector socio-economic progress including: enhancing sustainable development; fostering fiscal growth; combatting poverty; eradicating illiteracy; and promoting tolerance and peace.
There is a concrete and direct correlation between the most fundamental human right of all – the right to life – and its intrinsic connection with the right to education. By providing mothers with a primary level education, maternal death rates would fall by two thirds – saving almost one hundred thousand lives. Extending this paradigm to include mothers with a secondary education, child deaths would be reduced by half, saving a further three million lives (EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2013).
Access to, and completion of, quality secondary education is a critical means to empower girls and women by providing them with the skills and knowledge – academic, social and personal – that they will need to progress further in higher education, work and society.
To strengthen the human right to education, in particular for girls and women, GWI urges:
- All states to sign, ratify and implement in national law all international human rights treaties, recognising that human rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated;
- All stakeholders and policy makers, especially within the fields of education and international development, to adopt, implement, accelerate, and adequately finance measurable plans of action to increase access to, and completion of, all levels of education for all people. This includes full multistakeholder, multilateral commitment to implementing the post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 4 (education) and Goal 5 (gender equality);
- Particular commitment and tailored support should be guaranteed for at-risk groups to access education, especially girls and women with disabilities, those of rural, indigenous or migrant background, and those displaced by war;
- To ensure continued progress in knowledge dissemination and innovation, and to bridge both gender and poverty gaps, states must recognise the lifelong nature of learning for girls and women, which critically includes secondary, tertiary, continuing, and non-traditional education;
- States and education sectors should prioritise the implementation of universal access to free, quality secondary education, including by providing financial incentives and support to keep girls from the poorest families in school;
- Local, national and international literacy campaigns should be launched to combat global illiteracy. Specific, relevant and measurable targets are critical to effectively monitor implementation and progress. In the face of modern-day technological advancements and necessities, literacy must include financial and digital literacy, as well as functional competencies of reading, writing and numeracy. States should invest in the compilation, publication and dissemination of gender- and age-disaggregated data that evaluate literacy levels of all its population. Literacy should also be assessed along a continuum, as supported by UNESCO;
- Local and national governments, education, health, and justice sectors and international policy makers must prioritise the vulnerable situation of the girl child in public policy campaigns and actions at all levels. States should introduce and implement relevant national legislation, with particular emphasis on combatting child, early and forced marriage, and should ratify international commitments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriage; and
- Human rights education must also be introduced, both institutionally at schools and informally within communities, in order to raise awareness of the rights of all individuals and the responsibilities of states. Men and boys must be included in all dialogue on human rights education, where both genders should be encouraged to work together as partners and not adversaries.
Simply put, the human right to education is essential for the economic, social and cultural development of all societies. It is the responsibility of all states to guarantee each child’s right to an education. Governments must make a priority of making schools affordable and accessible for children and ensuring that all girls and women have access to education.
Graduate Women International