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Panellists on the Commonwealth Human Rights Unit panel discussion on girls education

Breaking barriers to girls’ education crucial to sustainable development

12 July 2019

Inequality, child marriage and social and cultural norms are just some of the barriers that girls face in their pursuit of education.

A panel discussion hosted by the Commonwealth’s Human Rights Unit on the margins of the 41st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva aimed to share best practices to eliminate these barriers.

Speakers included the ambassadors of Rwanda and Trinidad and Tobago and representatives from UNICEF and Plan International.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador Makeda Antoine-Cambridge said that since the 1990s girls and women have been showing higher rates of educational participation than boys and men at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

She cited the country’s National Development Strategy Vision 2030 and its last review by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, adding:

“For us, education is seen as one of the pillars of the foundations for our development as a people and as a country. We believe education is critically important for young girls, so they can understand their value and so they can contribute to the development of our country.”

Rwanda’s Ambassador Francois Xavier Ngarambe highlighted that the country has achieved gender parity in primary school and girls outnumber boys in secondary schools:

“For Rwanda, equality is a question of paramount importance. Equality of men and women, and the quality of men and women starts with equality, equal rights, equal justice, equal opportunities for boys and girls, especially in education, which is the foundation of their development.”

Diplomats, independent experts, non-governmental organisations and United Nations officials attended the event. Discussions focused on how to tackle barriers to enrolling, attending and completing primary and secondary education.

Nora Shabani, Regional Education Specialist at UNICEF, welcomed the debate, saying: “These events are really critical for cross country learning because there is a lot of commitment and there is a lot of talk about the importance of girls’ education, but then it's also important to look at ways in which countries manage to achieve success”.

Anya Gass, Advocacy Officer at Plan International added: “It's really important to be able to also share that experience and learn from member states who have been making significant progress as we heard from the experiences of Rwanda and Trinidad and Tobago.”

This panel discussion continues to build upon the work of the Commonwealth’s Human Rights Unit with regards to eliminating the barriers that prevent girls from enjoying the human right of quality education, including child, early and forced marriage.