“Education and the rights of the girl child”
It is, indeed, with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation by the Word Vision Cyprus to place under my auspices the promotion in Cyprus of the Girl Rising and to deliver a keynote address on the occasion of its VIP screening in Cyprus.
Girl Rising, a groundbreaking documentary film, which focuses on the life of nine girls across the globe, demonstrates the power of education to change a girl and, by this, to transform the world. It highlights the global challenge of uneducated girls and aims to raise awareness within the public at large around the world, about girls’ rights in general and the right to education in particular.
It is, certainly, not a coincidence that this premier screening of the film in Cyprus is taking place today, the 11th of October. Two years ago (On December 19, 2011), the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl-Child, recognizing the rights of girls and the unique challenges, girls face around the world. This year, the Day focuses on “Innovating for Girls’ Education”.
Ladies and gentlemen
The right to education has been globally recognised since 1948, with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This instrument, conceived as a “common standard of achievement for all people and all nations”, proclaimed education as a fundamental right. The right to education has, since, been enshrined in a number of international treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979) and, certainly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989).
In all, Education is approached, not only as a goal to be achieved for the whole population - a right in itself –, but, also, as an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. General Comment No. 13, 21st Session, 1999, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 20th of November 1989, sets forth the basic human rights of children. The CRC marks an ideological shift in the perception of childhood reconceptualizing the child, from being a vulnerable object in need of protection, to an active subject of rights, a person in his/her own right, entitled to inherent dignity and full respect.
The CRC, (devoting two separate articles to the right of education), underlines that the entitlement to education is not just a matter of access but, also, a matter of content General Comment No. 1, 17 April 2001, Committee on the Rights of the Child.. Article 28 of the CRC, affirms the right of the child to education and stresses the need for this right to be achieved “progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity”. States shall make primary education compulsory and free to all children, and encourage the development of secondary education for all children as well. Authorities are, also, required to take measures to encourage regular attendance and reduce drop-out rates. Article 29 of the CRC, is more extensive and specific with regard to the aims of education in relation to the development of a child’s personality. Education is about developing the full range of abilities and talents of young people, and carries a responsibility to encourage respect for the child’s family, cultural identity, language and values. It, also, specifically aims at developing “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. The school should help the child to prepare for a “responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin” CRC, Article 29. Furthermore, education should contribute to the “development of respect for the natural environment” See note 3.
The CRC, as any other human rights international instrument, is not a mere list of articles, embodying divergent or independent principles; it is a coherent and well structured text. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in an effort to secure a holistic approach to children’s rights, has identified four of its Articles which should be considered as “general principles” and taken into account in the implementation of all other provisions of the CRC. One of them, Article 2, spells out the non-discrimination principle; it mandates that children, without any exception, should enjoy their rights; no child should be discriminated against or excluded from opportunities, irrespective of “the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status”.
In relation to education, this means that, all children should have access to a “child-friendly, inspiring and motivating the individual child” See note 2 education, without discrimination. At the same time, education should be inclusive and anti-discriminatory. Educational programmes should challenge all aspects of discrimination and prejudices and should promote an understanding and appreciation of the values enshrined in all human rights instruments, including respect for differences.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, guarantees the rights of all children—without discrimination in any form. It obliges State parties to ensure that each child—boy or girl—within their jurisdiction enjoys all the rights recognized thereby. Despite the near-universal ratification of the CRC, girls, today, in various cultural and social settings, are discriminated against, on the ground of, both, their age and gender. Millions of girls, are denied their human rights, including their right to education.
There are, today, 66 million girls around the globe, who are not at school. Most of these girls, live in the developing countries. Yet, educating girls, is the single most leverage investment available to these countries, as they strive to achieve socio-economic development. In the words of former UN Secretary- General, Kofi Annan, “there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls”. As I have, myself underlined, education, more than a development imperative, is a human right and, as such, a legal as well as a moral obligation. Girl Rising, which has been described as “a cornerstone of a media campaign about educating girls around the world”, has much to contribute to this end, through raising awareness and collection of funds, for supporting girls in developing countries to gain access to school.
It is true that, in Cyprus, as in the rest of Europe, boys and girls have, more or less, equal access to education. It is, also, true that, significant progress has been achieved in terms of gender equality, not only in the field of education. Nevertheless, traditional gender stereotypes remain deeply rooted in our culture and are manifested in our everyday practices. Discrimination against girls and women in our society and our schools is, mostly, structural and implicit; and, in this sense, quite difficult to combat. There, still, remains a lot to be done, before we establish a true culture of human rights, a necessary pre-condition for the implementation of gender equality in our schools and our society in general.
With these thoughts, I would like to congratulate the World Vision Cyprus, for their work towards this goal and, in particular, their initiative to promote the Girl Rising in Cyprus.
I invite you all to enjoy the film.
Address by the Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Ms Leda Koursoumba,
VIP screening in Cyprus of Girl Rising
Shoe Factory, Nicosia
Friday, October 11, 2013 at 19:30
7 10 2013 - Girl Rising - Friday 11 10 2013 - final.doc
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