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Arab media professionals, human rights organizations, academia and United Nations agencies have begun meeting in Dubai to hammer out ways to improve girls’ access to quality education, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, highlighting that while there have been advances in the Arab world, out of 70 million illiterates an estimated two-thirds of these are women and girls.
Addressing the Second Arab Regional Media Forum, Thomas McDermott, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, called on members of the media to become credible advocates for children, and to strengthen their role as monitors of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other promises agreed upon by countries to boost national support for girls’ enrolment in school.
“Media also need to make all of us, the policymakers, accountable for results,” he said at the three-day event that began on Tuesday. The MDGs are a set of eight goals aimed at slashing a host of socio-economic ills by 2015, one of which is to eliminate global gender disparity.
Egyptian film star and UNICEF Regional Goodwill Ambassador Mahmoud Kabil spoke of his visit to Darfur, Sudan, where he witnessed the determination of girls to attend school. He called on countries in the region to push harder for achieving the goal of equality between girls and boys in education and asked each participant to commit to one activity to further this goal.
UNICEF said that while girls’ access to education has improved dramatically over the past few decades and primary school enrolment is high or universal in most countries in the region, nevertheless “great challenges remain”, with many children, especially girls, still excluded from education, and many more enrolled in school but learning too little.
Further, countries and territories that have experienced decades of internal conflict and displacement, such as Iraq, Sudan and Palestine, need to recreate strategies for school reintegration with a focus on areas where resettling occurs.
UNICEF said that eliminating gender disparity in education requires action on a number of fronts, such as training teachers who are aware of gender and child rights; identifying women teachers who can become role models and inspire girls; developing learning environments that are sensitive to health and nutrition issues; providing girls access to sports so as to boost their confidence; and supplying safe water and latrines, since many girls drop out of school partly because of the lack of separate toilet facilities.
The Forum is an initiative spearheaded by UNICEF in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Dubai Humanitarian City, the Dubai Press Club, Al Bayan Newspaper, the Arab Institute for Human Rights and the Centre for Arab Women for Training & Research.