Audrey Azoulay was speaking on Friday in Beijing, China, where she co-chaired the award ceremony for the 2023 UNESCO Prize for the Education of Women and Girls, alongside the agency’s Special Envoy, Professor Peng Liyuan.
She appealed for an “intensification of global investments in favour of girls and women’s access to education”.
Striving towards equality
Ms. Azoulay said “significant progress” has been made in education since the international community adopted the UN Declaration and Programme of Action for Women’s Rights in 1995.
Today, 90 per cent of girls worldwide have completed primary education, and more than 40 per cent have access to higher education.
“This dynamic must continue because gender equality in education is not yet a reality. Currently, two-thirds of illiterate adults in the world are women,” she said.
Honouring outstanding initiatives
The UNESCO Prize honours outstanding and innovative contributions made by individuals, institutions, and organizations to advance girls’ and women’s education.
The award, which is presented annually, was established in 2015 and is supported by China. Two projects in Pakistan and China are this year’s recipients.
A better future for girls
The Star Schools programme in Pakistan ensures girls’ education in emergency situations. More than 540,000 minority girls benefit, including Afghan and Rohingya refugees, and victims of natural disasters such as the deadly and devastating floods last year.
UNESCO spoke to Fajer Pasha, Executive Director of the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education (PAGE), which runs the project.
“When girls have been through a Star School, we want them to come out not just literate but confident and above all aware of their rights so that they believe a future exists for them,” he said.
Putting girls first
The Spring Bud project in China supports access to quality education for four million adolescent girls from 56 ethnic groups, spread across 31 provinces.
The initiative by the China Children and Teenagers’ Fund (CCTF) was created at a time when nine years of compulsory education was not yet fully established across the country, and families still had to pay fees and textbook costs.
“Some rural families were too poor to send their girls to school. Some parents in remote areas, influenced by old cultural biases, would choose boys, not girls when they could only afford to send some of their children to school,” CCTF Secretary-General Zhang Yanhong told UNESCO.
Cultural heritage visit
While in China, Ms. Azoulay also met with President Xi Jinping, who reaffirmed the country’s commitment to supporting UNESCO’s mandate and working together with all Member States of the organization.
World Heritage sites are natural and cultural places that are of outstanding universal value to humanity, and there are more than 1,000 across the planet.
These locations are protected under the World Heritage Convention, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.