By Naisola Likimani,

March 1, 2011- New York, The importance of prioritizing education and health for adolescent girls was discussed by an illustrious panel that included the new Executive Director of UNFPA, the Director General of International Planned Parenthood, the Director General of UNESCO and the Ambassador from Bangladesh to the United Nations.

In 2011, the world will have its 7 millionth baby. In the global south, about 70% of the population is under age 30, half of whom are women. In view of this, the UN has formed an Adolescents Taskforce, co-chaired by UNFPA and UNESCO, to focus on five areas: educating adolescent girls with a quality education, improving their health especially sexual and reproductive health, ensuring they are free from violence, empowering them to be leaders, and counting adolescent girls so that they are not invisible in policy making. Dr. Babatunde of UNFPA was clear that part of a “quality education” includes comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), to empower adolescents to make good choices, and that UNFPA is committed to working with national policy systems to ensure CSE is mainstreamed into education.

Gender inequalities in education are greater at the secondary level than primary level, and in some regions of the world have actually worsened in recent years. This is notably the case in sub-Saharan Africa which in 2008 had around 79 girls in school for every 100 boys, compared to 82 girls in 1999.

The panel recommended some strategies to get more girls into secondary education. These include:

1.    Lift financial constraints such as fees and provide financial incentives such as stipends to poor families for keeping their girls in school. This proved highly effective in the case of Bangladesh.

2.    Build more schools especially in rural areas, where distances to secondary schools are further than primary schools. Ensure they have separate latrines.

3.    Ensure that schools offer a rewarding experience, i.e. they are safe, have more female teachers, a gender responsive curriculum, and offer a broad range of life skills including reproductive health education

4.    Provide technical skills that empower girls in the labour market, and that respond to local labour market needs.

Several panelists echoed that it is key to connect education to adolescent girls aspirations. Therefore increasing employment opportunities and enforcing equal pay legislation must be part of national planning on education.

Naisola Likimani is the Advocay Officer of FEMNET.

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