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World: UNICEF Says Education Gender Gap Remains

UNICEF says in a new report that while more girls worldwide are going to school, the gender gap in many regions still remains wide. The report was officially released today in Geneva by UNICEF's executive director Carol Bellamy.

Prague, 18 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- UNICEF says in its latest report entitled "Progress for Children " that education for girls has been expanding all over the world. But progress has not been fast enough and some 115 million children -- mostly girls -- are still not attending primary school.

Primary education for every child by 2015 is a key UN goal. However, the report warns that unless there is a big improvement the world will not reach the target.

Damien Personnaz, UNICEF's spokesman in Geneva, says there are three main obstacles to education.
The problem is most acute in Central and West Africa and also South Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan have the widest gender gaps in the region.

"The first [obstacle] is the lack of commitment from leaders. Everywhere that progress has been strong, it is first and foremost because leaders have committed energy, creativity and also -- much more important -- resources to get children into school. The second factor is obviously poverty. The one which is also very important is conflict, HIV/AIDS," says Personnaz.

The problem is most acute in Central and West Africa and also South Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan have the widest gender gaps in the region.

The UNICEF spokesman says some progress has been achieved in Afghanistan but much still needs to be done to break down the barriers that keep girls out of schools.

"I think the Afghan government has taken the education issue very seriously, but in Afghanistan you have a combination of cultural factors where girls were not pushed to go to schools. And the second factor of course is the prevailing insecurity in most of the areas in Afghanistan," says Personnaz.

The UNICEF report says most of Caucasus and Central Asian countries are on track to meet the gender parity goal -- however in many countries education budgets have been shrinking.

"Central Asia, including the Caucasus, has seen a major drop -- especially countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, which has seen a drop in public spending on education. Another country is Kyrgyzstan, where public expenditure on education has dropped from 6 percent in '91 to 4.5 percent in 2002, and that's I think a major concern to all of us. Countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are pretty well on track," says Personnaz.

He says governments should invest in education in order to achieve economic progress.

"It is very important to get a clear commitment from the leaders of the developing world. It is also very important to educate the mothers. We found out that 75 percent of the countries where children are not going to school have mothers who never went to school themselves. And it is also very important to put an emphasis on getting girls into schools, because when you have a poor country, boys are usually going to school but girls are requested to stay at home," Personnaz says.

UNICEF says removing school fees is essential for achieving the goal of education for all.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.