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UN Secretary-General's remarks at event on Education of Adolescent Girls [as delivered]

The Drive for Five: A Call to Action for the Education of Adolescent Girls

New York, 11 February 2020

If you ask me what is the first priority for a better world I would have no doubt to say: quality education for all. And the first priority within the first priority is quality education for all girls. The only way to reach, one day, effectively gender equality in our society is to make sure that we start by gender parity in our educational systems.

And so, I am pleased to be with you to support this Drive for 5 call to action to educate adolescent girls.

And I am pleased to be sharing the stage with Mary Robinson and Bono, both of whom have shown in so many ways their commitment to furthering peace, human rights, sustainable development and the principles of the United Nations.

As Secretary-General, but especially as a former teacher, I am keenly aware of the vital importance of promoting education for adolescent girls.

This is an indispensable foundation for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and for a better world.

I thank the Government of Ireland for bringing together young people, activists and educators around this critical subject, because education is necessary for success and well-being in all societies.

And it is essential, as it was said already so many time here, for gender equality.

A good education can boost a woman’s quality of life and open doors to decent work opportunities.

It can give women and girls the life skills they need to adjust to an uncertain future, to stand up to discrimination and violence, and to make decisions about health care, including sexual and reproductive health.

More broadly, education benefits children, families and societies through helping reduce poverty and enhancing economic growth.

This year we celebrate 25 years since the Beijing Conference on Women.

We have made great strides in the last quarter-century, but important gaps remain.

It’s true. More girls are in school than ever before.

More countries have reached gender parity in educational enrolment.

However, while there is more parity at primary level, adolescent girls are still dramatically disadvantaged.

In addition, the rising rates of female education have not shifted deeply entrenched occupational segregation in both developed and developing countries.

The global gender pay gap stands at an unrelenting 20 per cent.

And, despite doing just as well as boys in the classroom, social and institutional barriers still discourage girls from taking up careers based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

This is something we are especially highlighting today, on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Today, we celebrate the achievements of women scientists and emphasize the need for girls to have equal access to STEM education and to the career opportunities these skills provide.

These are the careers of the future, and we cannot achieve gender equality in our societies without women playing an equal role.

I strongly believe that gender equality is essentially a question of power. We still live in a male dominated world with a male dominated culture.  But we have to recognise that progressively we have been able to balance things, even if we are far from gender equality and gender parity in today’s world  

One of the most worrying trends I am witnessing today is the fact that in technological professions, and especially in the Silicon Valleys of this world, we have an even more male dominated culture and male dominated situation. Let’s not forget that these centres are the centres that are shaping, with their technologies, the economies and the societies of the future. So if we don’t reverse this trend and if we do not have real parity in women and men, defining the technologies of the future - designing the technologies of the future - we risk to have the present trend of balancing the power relations between men and women be reversed again. And so, education of girls - education of girls in the areas of STEM - is absolutely essential from the point of view of gender equality in the future.

Fair education for girls is also central to tackling poverty.

Around the world there are millions of adolescent girls whose education has stalled because of poverty, inadequate school sanitation facilities, unpaid care duties and harmful cultural practices, such as child marriage.

We also have to add those who had to leave school because of war and civil unrest, natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

Addressing these issues means working to overturn deeply rooted stereotypes and social norms that see women and girls as less deserving of an education, or that limit which subjects they have access to.

Investments must be made in building new skills so that young women are equipped for the changing world of work, and in mobile learning so that education is accessible to women and girls wherever they are.

So, today’s event could not be more timely.

Education is an essential pillar of a better future, for adolescent girls and for all of society.

In this year of anniversaries – of Beijing and Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security – and throughout the UN Decade for Action to deliver the SDGs, the priorities, voices and rights of adolescent girls must be at the centre of inter-generational change.

Thank you very much.

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