International Day of the Girl Child: Empowerment benefits us all
‘Girls’ education must be one of our priorities, because to a great extent the peace and prosperity of our world depend upon it.’ That message, conveyed by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child, sums up the significance of the day – by empowering girls through equal access to education, we are not only fulfilling a fundamental human rights obligation, but girls’ and women’s contributions in turn build a better world for all of us.
That message has special importance in the Asia-Pacific, a region of astonishing diversity, but with the common theme that girls and women have historically been deprived of equal access to education, leading to under-representation in every dimension of public life. And we know that excluding women from decision-making and leadership roles is a detriment to us all.
Each community and country faces its own unique circumstances. In the crucial example of scientific research and development, the national statistics are surprising, but for very different reasons. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Thailand in particular stands out with 56% of researchers being women, showing a trend of gender empowerment in STEM education within the country. It is worth pointing out, however, that women are still under-represented in the more lucrative private sector, which suggests that despite female researchers’ educational qualifications, they often still face discrimination in the employment process.
At the other end of the spectrum, Japan represents another extreme. Only 16% of researchers are women, a skewed representation that has consequences for the public and private sectors as well as academia. The recent case of a prestigious medical school admitting that for decades admissions had been deliberately biased against women highlighted different aspects of the problem. On the one hand, a culture of systematic sexism was exposed that robbed women of their potential and distorted the medical profession; on the other, the outrage in society and abject apology by the institution represented a genuine will for change within the country.
These are just two examples in the complex mosaic of the Asia-Pacific, in which every country has its own challenges to meet. In its role as the Regional Office for Education, all of UNESCO Bangkok’s work with Member States rises from the foundation of gender equality, with every programme committed to equal and inclusive education for all. Concrete examples of this commitment can be seen in the ‘Cracking the Code’ campaign encouraging girls and women to succeed in STEM education and professions, gender-sensitive training for teachers to work towards equal treatment in classrooms, and strategic partnerships recognising and empowering women throughout academia.
These programmes have the Sustainable Development Goals embedded in their core, particularly SDG4 on Education and SDG5 on Gender Equality. But the SDGs are inseparable from each other, and this mission to empower girls and women and ensure that they have equal opportunities is essential to each aspect of the ambitious Sustainable Development Agenda 2030. As Ms Azoulay emphasises, girls’ education lies at the heart of UNESCO’s mandate of building peace in the minds of women and men.
More information on Women in Science across the world
UN Women’s resources on International Day of the Girl Child
Director-General Azoulay’s statement in full