Secretary-General, at Launch of Initiatives on Women’s Education, Stresses Need to Fight Back against Unequal, Unfair Treatment

from UN Secretary-General, UN Women
Published on 26 May 2011 View Original


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the launch of the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education and the High-Level Panel on Girls’ and Women’s Education for Empowerment and Gender Equality, in Paris on 26 May:

I know that this is not the right occasion, but let me say a few words about the news of the arrest of Ratko Mladić.

This is an historic day for international justice. This arrest marks an important step in our collective fight against impunity as well as for the work of the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia]. I commend the efforts of President [Boris] Tadić and of the Serbian Government.

I am just off a plane from Ethiopia and Nigeria, where I visited hospitals in cities and clinics in villages to focus on women’s and children’s health. When I saw the newborns there, I knew they were lucky to have such good care.

It made me remember when my sister was born. I was 6 years old. It was January. Korea was at war. Two days after my mother gave birth, we had to leave our home because of the fighting. We had to walk about 6 or 7 kilometres in the deep snow. When I think back to those days, I see again the incredible strength of women.

At that time, Koreans did not usually register their children right away because they wanted to see whether they would live. My true birthday is actually different than the one on my birth certificate.

Today, 67 years after I was born, history repeats itself in Africa and many other parts of the world. But these African countries and their partners are making admirable efforts to change this. Nigeria is using part of its oil wealth to fund health care. Ethiopia has made major commitments, like quadrupling the number of midwives.

But as much as we need clinics and hospitals, money for health care and midwives, we also need education. This is true everywhere; in Nigeria and Ethiopia, in Bangladesh and Mali, in the United States and France.

Investing in the education of women and girls anywhere brings huge returns for health and great benefits for society. Some have even gone so far as to say that when we lack a medical vaccine to tackle an infectious disease, education can serve as a social vaccine. Education about health can save lives.

So can simply studying. Educating women and girls reduces fertility. It improves productivity. And it creates a new generation of mothers who make sure they, in turn, raise educated, empowered girls.

When I was a child, my school had no walls or desks — just seats in the dirt. Now, when I meet students in refugee camps or war zones, I know what school means to them. It means learning and it means normalcy. It means more than teaching maths or language or some other skills, important as all that is. Education sends a message — a message of confidence and hope. It tells that child: you have a future; what you think matters.

Education is a right, but it is not a reality for too many women and girls. Too often the cause is discrimination. That is why we must fight back against unequal and unfair treatment. The new Global Partnership we are launching today focuses on two key points: secondary education and literacy. Both pay great dividends for individuals and society. The High-Level Panel we are also launching today addresses empowerment and gender equality. These are critical in a world where girls and women lag behind men and boys when it comes to school, literacy and research.

I am especially pleased to see so many partners here: the United Nations, Governments, non-governmental organizations, academics, philanthropists and businesses. Working together, we are going to deliver education to women and girls who need it.

I am grateful for the strong leadership we have in this room. Prime Minister [Sheikh] Hasina [of Bangladesh], Prime Minister [Cissé Mariam Sidibé] Kaïdama [of Mali] and Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton [of the United States]: your engagement has already made a major difference. You are making education not just a right but a reality.

Philanthropists and corporate partners here today: you are doing what is right and what is rational. You understand that investing in education for women and girls enriches them while creating a more productive workforce for the world.

Now we need to spread this message further. I hope to see male Heads of State joining this campaign. And I will tell them that when I meet them. We all need to stand together. We have to make our case everywhere we go, from the summit of the G-8 to villages around the world.

You know the changes sweeping the world — economic pressure, technological advances and emerging global threats. We have to remain clear-sighted. Our guiding light is human rights.

When we respect the rights of women and girls, we secure human dignity for all. Education provides the fuel to ignite global progress. I thank our UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] Director-General Irina Bokova for her foresight in launching this initiative and bringing us all together. As we move forward, I will continue to support UNESCO every step of the way.

And I count on all of you to join this great campaign to help transform today’s women and girls into tomorrow’s scholars and scientists, investors and inventors.

For information media • not an official record