The last two weeks in Paris can only be described a momentous one in the fight to secure Education for All. Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, addressed key G7 forums and underscored the urgent role of education in realizing an equal, peaceful, stable and prosperous future for all.
At the meeting with G7 development ministers on July 4 – chaired by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alice addressed the group in her capacity as member of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council. In the presence of Ministers from Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, the G5 Sahel Alliance and international organizations including UN agencies and the World Bank, she emphasized that persistent gender inequality is a root cause of fragility and cycles of poverty, girls disproportionately affected because of sexual and gender-based violence, and harmful traditional practices such as child marriage.
Whether in Mali or Burkina Faso, Niger or Yemen, insecurity affects many parts of the Sahel region. We see schools closed, teachers absent and students’ learning on standby. Yet the painful irony is that education is never more necessary than during times of crisis. Investments in education can also reduce the chances of conflict in the future.
Meeting with G7 development and education ministers
The following day saw a unique opportunity for the global education agenda, with Alice addressing the G7 Joint Development and Education Ministerial. She called on the group to urgently address the learning crisis in the Sahel, cautioning against ad hoc interventions and championing the importance of leadership at country level to build strong gender-responsive education systems.
The ministers of education from Sahel countries and Senegal joined the discussions, and each gave stark accounts of the challenges in providing quality education, especially to girls. They shared common challenges such as not having an effective teacher work-force, persistent insecurity, high rates of early forced marriage and pregnancy as well as other harmful traditional practices.
The ministers highlighted the especially difficult circumstances for girls living in rural areas without sanitation and hygiene facilities in school to meet their basic needs. GPE works with all of these countries to address the issues by building stronger education systems that pay special attention to the needs of girls.
Innovating for women and girls
Later the same day, UNESCO and the French Government co-hosted the ‘Innovating for Women and Girls: Empowerment Through Education’ Summit - uniting leaders from across all sectors in their support for greater ambition and delivery around the global education goal (SDG 4).
Following Alice’s interventions on how education can help to tackle gender stereotypes, President Macron and Malala Yusufzai both took the stage to champion the ultimate power of education for achieving global transformation.
President Macron spoke of Frances’ support for the Global Partnership for Education and received raucous support from the audience when he said “what we owe to ourselves, what we owe to our youth and to our children, is that all the children of the world, girls and boys, are educated. And if there are obstacles on the way to school, we must bring them down. If we are told that it is the lack of transport, we must create it. If we are told that it is insecurity, we must fight against it. If we are told that it is the lack of means, we must bring it. If we are told that it is the lack of trained teachers, we must provide them”.
Not just a talking shop
This G7 ministerial week was a pivotal moment in building commitment from donor and developing country governments alike to achieve SDG 4 by 2030. So, what were some of the key announcements?
- Adoption of France’s Gender at the Centre Initiative, developed by GPE and UNGEI, will be financially supported by Canada, European Union, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to support sustainable development through education plans that respond to gender needs and dynamics.
- A ministerial joint communique outlining further support to education, particularly for girls and for the furthest behind, including commitment to concrete steps to make this a reality.
- The French government will launch a women’s entrepreneurship fund with the African Development Bank at the G7 leaders’ summit next month.
- Creation of a special fund of 120 million euros housed to improve the status and rights of women around the world, especially in the field of education.
- A direct call from President Macron for the G7 to double the funds for education in the Sahel, particularly for young girls.
- The first ever joint G7/G5 Sahel communique which promoted the vital importance of a human capital-based approach and education as a cornerstone within this.
Adding a gender lens to the G7
Our sojourn in Paris ended with a meeting of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, a group of amazing feminists who have been tasked by President Macron to ensure all G7 negotiations have a gender lens. The Council is now putting the final touches to a report they will release along with a call to action to all countries to enact and implement progressive legislative frameworks that advance gender equality. There is more to come on this in the coming weeks – hopefully to be announced at the G7 Leaders’ Summit to be held in Biarritz in August.
What is clear from our meetings in Paris over the past two weeks is that no country in the world is immune from gender inequality and its impact is global. The quest to achieve a gender equal world is one that must unite us all.
The power of education is transformative, we must do more to ensure girls and boys in all countries of the world can be inspired and equipped to build a better future by having access to quality education.