Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Civil society has warned of adverse social and health consequences after the Egyptian government ordered the removal of content related to male and female anatomy, reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from the school curriculum last November.

“We know most of this material wasn’t being taught, but removing it from the curriculum is a big step backwards,” says Noha Roushdy, researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Egypt’s education ministry has instructed schools not to teach lessons on “reproduction and propagation methods”, “pollination and fertilisation” genetics, and anatomical illustrations of the male and female reproductive systems. Teachers were ordered to disregard chapters on these subjects in existing biology textbooks, and new textbooks have been printed that omit the lessons.

The revisions, according to the independent weekly Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, affect students between the ages of 12 and 17. The paper quoted a ministry source as saying the deleted materials would be replaced by teacher-led classroom discussions that “incorporate the latest information on the subject from sources other than school textbooks.”

Lessons on reproductive health were first added to the Egyptian curriculum following the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994. The conference asserted the right of all men and women to receive comprehensive information pertaining to reproductive health, and recommended including lessons on the subject in school textbooks.

The government’s decision to remove these lessons from the official curriculum could be the biggest setback in nearly two decades for civil society organisations working to improve public knowledge on reproductive health.

“Definitely there will be social and health consequences,” says Dr. Amal Abdel Hadi, an outspoken advocate of reproductive health rights. “There will be more misconceptions about sex, marital disharmony and sexual harassment… and the prevalence of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) will increase.”

Sex has always been a sensitive topic in Egypt, and society’s discomfort with discussing matters related to sexuality has impeded efforts to address health issues and control spiralling population growth. Abdel Hadi is particularly disturbed by what she sees as a growing conservative and religious trend that is putting piety and propriety ahead of people’s health and rights.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, when people discussed sexuality the focus was on good and bad relationships,” she told IPS. “Now it is only about what is halal (permissible) or haram (sinful), which moves the whole issue into the religious realm.”

Egyptian religious authorities have rejected the idea of educating school students about safe sex and STDs. When this came up for debate five years ago, one influential Islamic cleric insisted that students should learn about sex “in a way that doesn’t stir instincts, or offend public morality.”

Translated, that means sex should only be taught in a way that reinforces the morally accepted behaviour of abstinence until marriage and fidelity. In practice, when sex is discussed in the classroom at all, it is presented in a religious or biological context without ever exploring its social and psychological dimensions.

Surveys have shown that Egyptians, particularly young women, are poorly informed when it comes to reproductive health and safe sex practices. Most lack basic knowledge on anatomy, reproductive functions and STDs.

A public awareness study of HIV/AIDS conducted in 2008 revealed that less than two percent of women among the poorest fifth of Egyptians, and about 16 percent among the richest, knew the basic facts of the disease. Men were better informed, but less than a third of males in the wealthiest group were aware that a person could be HIV-positive yet still appear healthy.

Egypt is one of only five Arab countries to have included reproductive health in the public school curriculum. Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Bahrain teach basic sex education to secondary school students. In Lebanon, only private secular schools provide any instruction.

Dr. Mamdouh Wahba, chairman of the Egyptian Society for Family Health (ESFH), warns that removing lessons on reproductive health from school textbooks will perpetuate commonly held misconceptions about sex and undermine efforts to control STDs. He says in the absence of authoritative explanations of sex and reproduction, inquisitive youth will seek information from unscientific sources.

“They’ll end up learning about sex from their peers, the Internet and (pornography),” he says.

Egyptian media is playing an increasingly important role in educating the public on reproductive health, and the information stream is richer than it was just five years ago. Television programmes and radio talk shows frequently discuss sex-related issues, including previously taboo topics such as condom use, oral sex and masturbation.

The problem, says Wahba, is that poorly educated audiences are often unable to discern the quality of the information being presented. Facts and sound advice about sex-related issues are lost among the scores of programmes in which unqualified doctors and religious clerics dispense subjective or fallacious opinions.

Wahba says the ICPD established 16 years ago that it is the right of all youth to receive objective, scientific instruction on reproductive health and life skills.

“This could be done through extracurricular activities, but we need to reach all students, and in order to do that you must either make these activities obligatory or put them into the school curriculum,” he says. (END)

Reactions to the steady stream of headlines about unwanted babies have ranged from an expansion of sex education in schools to calls for stiffer penalties and the opening of the country’s first “baby hatch,” where infants can be left to be cared for by others. One state government has offered financial support for younger teenagers to marry, angering women’s groups that have been campaigning against child marriage.

Under the Shariah, or Islamic, law that applies to the Muslims who make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s population, premarital sex is forbidden, with penalties including up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit, about $1,600, or six strokes of the cane. Premarital sex is not punishable for non-Muslims, but it remains socially taboo.

Abortion is illegal unless the woman’s physical or mental health is endangered. Anyone who abandons a child under 12 faces up to seven years imprisonment, a fine, or both.

Despite recent news media attention to the issue, the number of babies being abandoned in Malaysia has not shown a significant spike this year. The police have recorded 76 cases from the beginning of this year through Oct. 1, compared with 79 cases in 2009 and 102 in 2008.

But in August, the cabinet asked the attorney general’s office to look more closely into cases where babies died after being abandoned, to determine whether those responsible should be charged with murder, a crime that carries the death penalty in Malaysia.

Taking another approach, Mohamad Ali Rustam, chief minister of Malacca State, south of Kuala Lumpur, recently announced plans to give 500 ringgit to couples under the age of 18 if they marry.

In Malaysia, Muslim girls under 16 and boys under 18 may marry with permission from a Shariah court. Non-Muslims must be at least 18, unless they have permission from their state’s chief minister, in which case they may be as young as 16.

From 2000 through 2008, 1,654 marriages were registered involving girls aged 16 and 17, although women’s rights advocates believe the incidence of child marriage may be higher.

A Unaids report released this year showed that 7,176 Muslim girls and 2,029 Muslim boys aged 19 and below underwent H.I.V. screening in 2009, which is compulsory in most states for Malaysian Muslims who are applying to marry.

Mr. Mohamad said he hoped that providing teenage couples with money to help pay for a wedding ceremony would discourage premarital sex and thus reduce the abandonment of children born out of wedlock.

Groups that advocate raising the marriage age to 18 for all Malaysians, regardless of gender or religion, have condemned Mr. Mohamad’s move.

Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Women’s Aid Organization, a nongovernmental group, said that allowing those under 18 to marry contravened Malaysia’s obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the country’s own legislation. “Child marriage is against every right of the child,” she said.

Both the U.N. convention and Malaysia’s Child Act define a child as anyone under the age of 18.

The Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development is investigating reports that a 14-year-old girl was recently given permission to marry by the Shariah court, but there are no plans to raise the marriage age to 18 for Muslim girls.

“We hope that the Shariah judges will continue to exercise their discretion judiciously,” said Heng Seai Kie, deputy minister for Women, Family and Community Development.

Other efforts are focused on education and logistical support.

The number of teenage pregnancies, regardless of marital status, has risen slightly in Malaysia in recent years, with 16,207 live births registered in 2007, compared with 15,752 in 2005.

Nongovernmental organizations have long called for schools to provide students with more knowledge about sex and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Currently, students learn only the basics of anatomy and reproduction in biology and physical education classes, and abstinence outside marriage is promoted.

Starting next year, however, primary school students will spend 30 minutes a week and high school students will spend 40 minutes twice a month in “Reproductive Health and Social Education” classes.

The lessons will continue to emphasize abstinence before marriage, but secondary students will also learn about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.

Ms. Heng, the deputy women’s minister, said that while the government wanted to discourage premarital sex, it did provide support for unwed women and girls who became pregnant. It operates four shelters for unmarried girls under 18, and two for pregnant women 18 and older, at which free food and accommodation are provided. She said the country also maintained up to 60 welfare centers that offered assistance to unwed mothers and their babies.

The government’s response has failed to impress advocates like Ms. Josiah of the Women’s Aid Organization. While she welcomed the greater focus on sex education, she deplored the attempts to encourage young teenagers to marry and said punitive measures, like charging people with murder if the baby they abandoned died, would not help address the problem of child abandonment.

“If the message is that you might get caned for having sex outside marriage, or you might even be executed because you have abandoned a baby and the baby dies, or we will force you to get married — never mind if you are under 18 — if these are the messages that are going out, then certainly no one is going to come forward,” she said.

To increase the chances of survival for abandoned babies, Malaysia’s first “baby hatch,” a place where mothers can leave their unwanted babies, opened in May. Fifteen babies have been left so far.

The hatch, based on a design already in use in Germany and Japan, features an alarm that is activated when a baby is placed inside. It is located on the premises of Orphan Care, a nongovernmental organization that arranges for the babies to be placed in children’s homes or adopted.

Orphan Care is hoping to open another baby hatch in Kuala Lumpur and a third at a government hospital on the outskirts of the capital. “I think if more hatches open, if they are more accessible and in different cities, we can save a few more lives,” said Adnan Mohammad Tahir, the organization’s president.

Part of a longer article at

Despite the 2005 election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, and the introduction of free and compulsory primary education, many young girls in this post-conflict West African nation continue to drop out of school to cook and clean for their family, or earn a meagre living selling food or fresh water on the streets.

They face discrimination, sexual violence, family pressures, early pregnancy, forced marriage, and harmful traditional practices. Three out of five Liberian women can’t read.

When Johnson-Sirleaf came to power four years ago, the Harvard-trained economist inspired dreams of a better future for the country’s women. With much fanfare, she launched a National Policy on Girls’ Education in April 2006, and hailed girls’ education as the “cornerstone” of development in Liberia. The Girls’ Education Unit was opened shortly after to implement the policy.

Beyond universal primary education and rebuilding destroyed schools, the national policy promises to cut girls’ secondary school fees in half, train more female teachers, punish teachers who sexually exploit students, and provide counseling.

Other measures aimed directly at the retention of girls include providing health services to girls in school to boost self-esteem, paying out small scholarships for their tuition, uniform, and copybooks, and conducting a nationwide awareness campaign for parents.

It also stipulates that “a separate budget line should be established in the education budget specifically for this purpose…”

Four years later, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has still not earmarked a budget to implement the policy.

Liberian families continue to struggle with rising secondary school fees. Only one out of 10 grade school teachers are women. Counseling, life skills and health services are almost non-existent. Girls are forced to trade sex for grades with teachers, or barter sex on the streets for financial support.

Statistically, the gender gap in Liberia’s elementary schools has narrowed. The most recent school census revealed that girls accounted for 47 percent of students registered at Liberia’s public primary schools, but only 31 percent at public high schools in 2007-2008.

Mannah credits free tuition, feeding programs by the World Food Program, and piecemeal scholarships by international donors for uniforms and writing materials.

Those numbers are misleading though. The census only measures enrolment at the beginning of the school year and does not consider the high drop out among girls several months later due to family obligations, teenage pregnancy, or poverty.

UNICEF maintains that statistics reveal lower enrolment and retention of girls after Grade Three. UNICEF Education Specialist, John Sumo, blames the Liberian Government for abandoning its girls’ education policy.

This prompted UNICEF to stop financing girls’ education projects through the Liberian Government in January 2009, instead choosing to funnel money to international NGOs. UNICEF also decided to revoke its funding of the Girls’ Education Unit’s salaries and operational costs as of January 2010.

There has been little accountability for the past four years at the Education Ministry. The Minister during that time, Joseph Korto, was removed from his post in May 2010, shortly after he was named in an audit for alleged misappropriation of huge sums of money.

Audits to track development loans and aid, as part of the requirements for debt forgiveness, revealed dubious scholarship schemes and false claims for new schools that were abandoned or left incomplete.

At his swearing-in ceremony, the new education minister, Othello Gongar, stated, “I have not come to MOE to criticise the works of my predecessors, but to rather start from where they stopped in order to make the system viable.”

Gongar pledged to lobby the national legislature to increase Education’s overall budget from roughly 8 percent to 25 percent of the $347 million dollar national budget.

In the budgetary cash contest, Liberian girls and women are competing with war-destroyed roads, electricity grid, limited running water and sewage systems, a dysfunctional justice system, and other institutional and infrastructural problems.

Back at the Ministry of Education, Lorpu Mannah shows up each morning at the Girls’ Education Unit. Though she’s no longer paid, she still writes proposals to international NGOs requesting money to sponsor night schools for teenage mothers, counseling centres in high schools, or scholarships for women who want to become teachers.

“To be frank, I do it out of sympathy for the young girls.”

From a longer article at

More than half of the 72 million primary school-aged children out of school are girls. These children mostly come from the world’s poorest communities and, in many cases, from nations with long histories of conflict.

For the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), UNICEF Radio podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with Bob Prouty, Head of the Secretariat of the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative, a global partnership between donor and developing countries to speed progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015; and Suaad Allami, Iraqi lawyer and human rights activist.

The podcast discussion covered the ways poverty affects girls’ and boys’ access to education across the globe.

Mr. Prouty said the exclusion of girls from schooling is a result of many factors. Poverty, he added, is “highest in line.”

Girls are often put to work around the home or sent out to earn money. “The more the financial challenges are felt by families, the more likely they are to see the opportunities for girls to bring in some additional income,” Mr. Prouty said. The family income lost if girls are not working – coupled in many places with the high direct cost of schooling – is likely to be a major obstacle to educating girls, he added.

Culture and tradition can also play a “big role” in preventing girls from receiving a quality education, said Ms. Allami. In her native Iraq, she noted, “culture is one of the [biggest] challenges to face these girls when they want to continue their studies.”

Ms. Allami said she has witnessed significant changes in education levels overtime in her country. In the past, she noted, Iraqi women were highly educated compared with other girls in the region.

In contemporary Iraq, she said, “many families prevent their girls from going to schools, to universities. They are concerned about their safety, kidnappings, killings.” Today, literacy rates are low throughout Iraq, especially among women and girls. Violence and years of economic sanctions associated with past wars have made it particularly difficult for girls to receive an education, said Ms. Allami.

“Conflict disproportionately keeps kids out of school,” Mr. Prouty agreed, adding that it is “the single biggest remaining obstacle towards education for all.”

And armed conflict exacerbates the problems of poverty. “Conflict invariably has a larger impact on the poorest families,” said Mr. Prouty.

Despite these challenges, the Fast Track Initiative is leading to some improvements. “We’re seeing very positive movement in terms of parents trying to get their children started in school,” said Mr. Prouty.

But in developing countries, girls still drop out of school at higher rates than boys. As more children – including more girls – are enrolled in school, an increasingly central challenge will be to keep them there.

“The challenges we see, more and more, are in trying to get girls through schooling and up into higher levels of school,” said Mr. Prouty.

AUDIO: Listen now

A time to focus on adolescent girls

“Last week in Guatemala I visited a UNICEF centre that houses girls as young as thirteen who have been rescued from brothels. The stories of suffering are simply unimaginable — horrific situations of rape, prostitution, torture and lost innocence.

With the help of UNICEF and its partners, many of these girls are now being given the opportunity to heal and build a better life through education and care. While these girls have been rescued, unfortunately so many more remain trapped in an underground world of abuse.

Stories such as these are not uncommon in many other parts of the world and serve as a reminder of the work that must be done to ensure young girls and women are better protected.

Millions of adolescent girls live in poverty, experience gender discrimination and inequality, and are subject to violence, abuse, and exploitation. The result is not only the suffering of girls themselves, but a continuing cycle of oppression and abuse.

While progress has been made towards equal rights and equal access for women and girls in areas like basic health and education, too often adolescent girls are still excluded. Investment in education and health are essential, but so too are much tougher laws, penalties, and prosecutions against the abusers.

Education is one key to better lives for girls, their families and their communities. Expert studies estimate that every extra year a girl spends in secondary education lifts her income by more than 15 per cent. Better educated girls have better employment and health prospects and, as they grow to womanhood, they pass these benefits to their children.

There is a strong link between the educational levels a country provides for its girls and the size of that country’s economy. But more importantly, education empowers women and gives them the opportunity to have a greater voice in society.

As we recognize International Women’s Day this March 8th, the international community, together with governments around the world, must work more aggressively to ensure that every girl has the right to a childhood that provides her with the opportunity to reach her full potential.”

Girls in Swat District, northwestern Pakistan, have gone back to school, and most women who had been prevented from working have returned to work, but people are still fearful.

According to the government’s National Commission on the Status of Women, there were 1,000-1,200 women factory workers in Mingora before the Taliban takeover in 2009. It is unknown how many have returned to work.

Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced from Swat in the spring and summer of 2009 due to intense fighting between government forces and Taliban militants. Most returned after the army regained control in July. (See Swat timeline)

A deep sense of trauma exists in many places. Since November 2009, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has set up 10 welfare centres, known as “Friend’s House” to offer support and counselling to those affected by conflict.

There are also reports from Swat that state action against militants is continuing, adding to the tension.

“We have credible reports of arbitrary detentions, including female relatives of militants,” Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN.

Meanwhile, Sardar Hussain Babak, education minister for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), has told the media in Peshawar that since December 2009 there has been a 1 percent increase in female enrolment. This is a significant development in a part of the country where, according to official figures, the literacy rate for women stands at below 23 percent.

School infrastructure, however, is “in ruins”, according to Ibrash Pasha, an activist with the NGO Khwendo Kor, which works for the education of girls.

Part of a longer article at

Extremist Threat to Women Increasing, Government Failing to Protect

The situation for Afghan women and girls is dire and could deteriorate. While the world focuses on the Obama administration’s new security strategy, it’s critical to make sure that women’s and girls’ rights don’t just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors.

Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, women and girls suffer high levels of violence and discrimination and have poor access to justice and education, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The Afghan government has also failed to bring killers of prominent women in public life to justice, creating an environment of impunity for those who target women.

The 96-page report, “We Have the Promises of the World: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan,” details emblematic cases of ongoing rights violations in five areas: attacks on women in public life; violence against women; child and forced marriage; access to justice; and girls’ access to secondary education.

“The situation for Afghan women and girls is dire and could deteriorate,” said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While the world focuses on the Obama administration’s new security strategy, it’s critical to make sure that women’s and girls’ rights don’t just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors.”

While the plight of women and girls under the Taliban was used to help justify the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, women’s rights have not been a consistent priority of the government or its international backers. With fundamentalist factions in government gathering strength, the insurgency gaining ground, and some form of reconciliation with Taliban factions firmly on the horizon, the gains made by Afghan women and girls since 2001 in areas such as education, work, and freedom of movement are under serious threat.

“Women are not a priority for our own government or the international community,” Shinkai Karokhail, a member of Parliament, told Human Rights Watch. “We’ve been forgotten.”

Women in public life are subject to routine threats and intimidation. Several high profile women have been assassinated, but their killers have not been brought to justice. When Sitara Achakzai, an outspoken and courageous human rights defender and politician, was murdered in April 2009, her death was another warning to all women who are active in public life.

High profile women interviewed for this report say that they feel they are not taken seriously when they report threats. One member of parliament who, like some others, spoke anonymously because of the danger they face, told Human Rights Watch:

“I’ve had so many threats. I report them sometimes, but the authorities tell me not to make enemies, to keep quiet. But how can I stop talking about women’s rights and human rights?”

A woman police officer who has received death threats said:

“They told me that they will kill my daughters. Every minute I’m afraid. I can never go home – the government cannot protect me there. My old life is over.”

One nationwide survey of levels of violence against Afghan women found that 52 percent of respondents experienced physical violence, and 17 percent reported sexual violence. Yet because of social and legal obstacles to accessing justice, few women and girls report violence to the authorities. These barriers are particularly formidable in rape cases. Although women activists and members of parliament pushed hard and succeeded in putting rape on the statute books this year for the first time, the government has shown little willingness to treat each case as a serious crime or to engage in a public education campaign to change attitudes.

The lack of justice compounds women’s vulnerability. One woman who was gang raped by a well connected local commander found that after a long fight to bring her rapists to justice, they were freed by a presidential decree. Soon after in 2009, her husband was assassinated. The woman told Human Rights Watch that he was killed because he had battled for her rights:

“I have lost my son, my honor, and now my husband,” she said. “But I am just a poor woman, so who will listen to me?”

Surveys suggest that in more than half of all marriages, the wives are under age 16, and 70 to 80 percent of marriages take place without the consent of the woman or girl. These practices underlie many of the problems faced by women and girls, as there is a strong correlation between domestic violence and early and forced marriage.

A 13-year-old girl who was forced into marriage explained to Human Rights Watch that after she dared to escape she was hunted by her husband’s family: “They came and asked for me to come back. I said no; they kept coming. I always say no… I can’t go back. They want to kill me.” Women activists who gave the girl shelter were denounced in parliament. Years later, the young woman is still fighting for a legal separation from her illegal marriage.

This case is just one in the report that illustrates the fundamental problem faced by women and girls of lack of access to justice. Studies suggest that more than half the women and girls in detention are being held for “moral crimes,” such as adultery or running away from home, despite the fact that running away from home is not a crime in Afghan law or Sharia. But whether it is a high-profile woman under threat, a young woman who wants to escape a child marriage, or a victim of rape who wants to see the perpetrator punished, the response from the police or courts is often hostile.

“Police and judges see violence against women as legitimate so they do not prosecute cases,” Dr. Soraya Sobhrang of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission told Human Rights Watch.

Law reforms that protect women’s rights are important, but leadership is also required to help shift attitudes and prevent abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government needs to take its responsibility to protect women and girls seriously,” Reid said. “President Hamid Karzai has a lot of work to do to restore his reputation as a moderate on women’s rights.”

After the destruction of many girls’ schools by the Taliban, education for girls became the most symbolic element of the international donor effort in Afghanistan. Despite significant gains, stark gender disparities remain. The majority of girls still do not attend primary school. A dismal 11 percent of secondary-school-age girls are enrolled in grades seven through nine. Only 4 percent of girls make it to grades 10 through 12. While the number of both boys and girls attending school drops dramatically at the secondary school level, the decline is much more pronounced for girls.

The diminishing status of women’s rights in Afghanistan was forced back onto the agenda in March when the discriminatory Shia Personal Status law was passed by parliament and signed by Karzai. Faced with national and international protests, Karzai allowed the law to be amended, but many egregious articles remain that impose drastic restrictions upon Shia women, including the requirement that wives seek their husbands’ permission before leaving home except for unspecified “reasonable legal reasons,” and granting child custody rights solely to fathers and grandfathers.

“We welcomed the international community’s words on the Shia law – really – they said many beautiful things, as they did in 2001” said Wazhma Frogh, women’s rights activist. “We have the promises of the world. But still we wait to see what more they will do.”

Karzai should revise the law to protect women’s rights fully and appoint women who have been active defenders of women’s rights to positions of power, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Shia law provided a timely reminder of how vulnerable Afghan women are to political deals and broken promises,” Reid said. “Karzai should begin his new presidency with a clear signal to women that his will be a government that wants to advance equality.”

Key Recommendations of “We Have the Promises of the World: Women’s rights in Afghanistan
* The government and donors should make the promotion and protection of women’s rights a main priority of the country’s reconstruction and a central pillar of their political, economic, and security strategies.
* The government, with the support of donors, should embark on a large-scale awareness campaign to ensure that rape is understood to be a crime by law enforcement agencies, judges, parliament, civil servants, and the Afghan public. The campaign should also aim to reduce the stigmatization of victims of rape.
* The government should make marriage registration more widely available and compulsory.
* The president should order the release of, and offer an apology and compensation to, all women and girls wrongfully detained on the charge of “running away from home.”
* The government, with the support of donors, should increase the number and geographic coverage of girls’ secondary classes by building more girls’ secondary schools, and ensure the recruitment and training of female teachers is accelerated.
* The government, with the support of the UN and other donors, should prioritize security for women candidates and voters in planning for the 2010 parliamentary elections.
* International donors and the United Nations, in conjunction with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, should conduct a full gender audit of all spending in Afghanistan.

Related Materials: “We Have the Promises of the World

A Washington-based investigative journalism organization said in a report issued Tuesday that it found a “culture of secrecy” surrounding sexual assault cases on university campuses across the U.S.

The report by the Center for Public Integrity showed that nearly half of the 33 female students it interviewed in the past year about being raped were unsuccessful in pursuing criminal charges.

That left the campus judiciary system as their only recourse. But victims who take that route “face proceedings that are shrouded in secrecy, where they encounter mysterious disciplinary proceedings, where they themselves are shut out of the hearing process,” Kristen Lombardi, lead reporter on the nine-month investigation, said during a news conference broadcast Tuesday.

Nearly a third of the 33 victims said school administrators discouraged them from pursuing complaints, and about a dozen experienced confidentiality requirements “sometimes followed by threats of punishment if they were to disclose any information about the case,” Lombardi said.

The 33 students interviewed for the study represent only a fraction of the sexual assault cases at campuses nationwide. The U.S. Department of Education’s office of post-secondary education said there were 2,532 forcible sex offenses in campuses in 2007.

A 2005 study by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Justice Department, found that one in five women on a college campus will be the victim of rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates.

The Center for Public Integrity did not reveal where the 33 victims went to school or where the clinics and crisis-services programs were located, citing confidentiality.

The center’s study revealed that fewer than 5% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities. Victims who do report an assault on campus face a “litany of barriers,” said Bill Buzenberg, the center’s executive director, including “confidential agreements and off-the-record negotiations with administrators and guidance counselors uninterested in the victim’s plight altogether.”

Another key finding by the center was that the campus judicial system resulted in lenient punishment. Expulsion is a rarity, Lombardi said.

Michele Cole, a victim advocate with Ball State University’s office of victim services who is consulted every time a sexual assault is reported, advises victims about both the criminal system and the campus judicial system.

“If they’re going to file one (complaint), I encourage them to file the other,” Cole said. “My function is to break down those barriers so that the victim doesn’t feel like they have to be silenced.”

More than half of Ugandan girls who enrol in grade one drop out before sitting for their primary school-leaving examinations.

The fact that girls are dropping out between age 11 and 13 is being linked to the beginning of the menstruation cycle and its associated challenges.

Research conducted by a non-government organisation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE), reveals that the lack of sanitary pads, coupled with other factors like the absence of water or separate toilet facilities for girls in many schools, is responsible for the drop-out rate.

Despite tax waivers introduced to reduce the cost of sanitary pads, finding money to buy them each month is a challenge for many grown women, never mind pre-teen girls.

A packet of sanitary pads costs the equivalent of $1.50 in Uganda – for the same amount you could get a kilo of sugar for the whole household. Girls whose parents can’t afford to give them the money improvise with strips of toilet paper or old cloth. “Sometimes you buy two packets depending on the flow,” says Florence Kanyike, national coordinator of FAWE in Uganda. “For some girls the flow is heavy and they will need to change pad in the course of the day.”

In their study of challenges to girl child education, FAWE researchers found that taboos and silence associated with menstruation in many communities mean some girls are in any case unable to ask their parents for money to buy pads, and forced to find ways of getting money on their own.

Raising the subject can put unwanted pressures on a young girl. Kanyike says that for some parents, when a girl starts menstruating, it’s a sign that she is mature enough for marriage. This is the age at which many girls in rural areas are sent into forced marriages.

Maimuna Kagoya has just started secondary school. She’s fortunate that her aunt, Aisha, buys pads for her. In her Muslim family, Maimuna will be assumed to be ripe for marriage once she’s known to be menstruating.

Speaking to IPS in the presence of her aunt, Maimuna says many of her friends dropped out of school although she is not sure if it was related to menstruation.

One risky means girls less fortunate than Maimuna turn to to raise the money on their own is through sexual relationships with much older men who can provide the cash; one consequence of this is a large number of unwanted pregnancies, which then force girls to drop out of school.

Dropping out of school affects girls in the long-term by limiting their future earning potential.

FAWE has launched a campaign to de-stigmatise menstruation through “girl education movement” clubs in schools, where girls are taught to treat their periods as a normal occurrence not to be scared of.

The campaign to dispel silence around menstruation and advocate for affordable sanitary pads to be made available in local markets across the country piloted in five districts earlier this year.

The project is dealing with twelve primary schools in each district, conducting workshops with pupils to open up dialogue on the topic of menstruation. The pupils discuss anything from lack of sanitary pads, poor facilities for menstruation at school and in the community, as well as try to find solutions.

Fatuma Wamala, programme officer at FAWE, says through the workshops they found that poor menstrual hygiene on the part of adolescent girls stem from beliefs, myths and attitudes within the community coupled with poverty.

“Many parents do not allocate any budget to sanitary materials for the girls especially in day schools,” says Wamala.

She says FAWE’S advocacy has led to lower prices for sanitary towels on the open market and increased demand for sanitary towels in rural areas, where local shops are beginning to stock them.

It was FAWE’s workshops with members of parliament and government officials which led to tax waivers on sanitary pads being announced by the finance minister in the 2006 national budget.

Now the lawmakers want government to go further and buy sanitary pads for female pupils in primary schools. Nabilah Sempala, a woman member of parliament for Kampala Central constituency, says government should include the cost of sanitary pads in the budget of the universal primary education.

Countries where women’s literacy rates and access to education are significantly worse than men’s tend to have higher levels of hunger, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

“Wherever women are not empowered you see high levels of hunger,” Suresh Babu, a senior research fellow with IFPRI, told IRIN.

The institute’s 2009 Global Hunger Index (GHI) calls for policy action on gender empowerment, social protection and governance to improve food security.

The index lists 121 countries using a scale of one (no hunger) to 100, describing values under 4.9 as “low hunger”, between 10 and 19.9 as “a serious problem” and values of 30 or greater as “extremely alarming.”

It quantifies hunger according to the availability of food per capita in terms of calories required per day, weight of children under five, and the proportion of children dying before age five.

“Gender equality is a key factor in solving the problem of hunger. The more women are educated, the more likely they are to take children to hospital,” noted Babu.

For example, Chad, where 13 percent of women are literate against 41 percent for men, has a GHI of 31.3.

Botswana, by contrast, which provides universal access to 10 years of basic schooling and has greatly reduced gender disparity at all education levels, has an index of 12.1.

“We hope that the GHI will not only generate discussion but also stimulate action… to overcome extreme vulnerability and gender inequality, which are extremely [closely] connected,” said Constanze von Oppeln, food security policy officer with the German NGO, Welthungerhilfe.

According to IFPRI, “equalizing men’s and women’s status would reduce the number of malnourished children by 13.4 million in South Asia and by 1.7 million in sub-Saharan Africa”.

Twenty-nine countries in Africa and South Asia have alarming or extremely alarming levels of hunger; nine out of 10 of the worst are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa also has the highest proportion of undernourished people (76 and 68 percent of the population in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Eritrea, respectively) and the world’s highest child mortality rate.

Burundi had the highest prevalence of underweight children at 35 percent, followed by Ethiopia and Eritrea, at 34.6 and 34.5 percent. The worst overall performer was the DRC, with a hunger index of 39.1, a considerable decline from the 25.5 in 1990.

“The DRC is doing so badly that it is pulling the rest of the continent down,” said Babu. “Because of instability, the DRC is not able to invest in and reach rural areas where food can be grown.”

Comparing Africa and South Asia, he noted that while South Asia had made remarkable progress in increasing food production, it performed worse than Africa in under-five health. South Asia’s GHI is 23.0 compared with sub-Saharan Africa’s 22.1.

“The causes of food insecurity in the two regions are different. In South Asia, the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women contributes to a high prevalence of underweight… children under five.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, low government effectiveness, conflict, political instability, and high rates of HIV and AIDS lead to high child mortality and a high proportion of people who cannot meet their calorie requirements.”

IFPRI recommended investment in social safety net programmes such as school feeding, improved nutrition for pregnant and lactating mothers and direct cash transfers.

In the long term, Babu said, good governance was key. “Governance is not just about corruption but worrying about those who will be affected by hunger,” he added.

“The challenges [of hunger] are not new. What is surprising is the lack of action from governments.”

US teens are getting sex education, but most are not learning about birth control from their parents, new government data shows.

And rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases reflect this — the annual rate of AIDS diagnoses for boys aged 15 to 19 years has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and rates of syphilis are also up.

The numbers show that U.S. youth need better sex education, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The new administration of President Barack Obama has been dropping some of the more controversial policies of the former Bush government, including an emphasis on abstinence-only education.

“The data presented in this report indicate that many young persons in the United States engage in sexual risk behavior and experience negative reproductive health outcomes,” the CDC wrote in its weekly report on death and disease.

For its report, the CDC compiled data from many different studies of hundreds of thousands of children and young adults aged 10 to 25. Some of the findings:

* Among 18 and 19-year-olds, 49.8 percent of girls and just 35 percent of boys had talked with a parent about methods of birth control.

* More than 80 percent of boys and girls said they had received formal instruction before age 18 on how to say no to sex.

* Nearly 70 percent of teen girls and 66 percent of boys had received instruction on methods of birth control.

* Thirty percent of girls aged 15 to 17 reported they had engaged in sex; this rose to 70.6 of girls aged 18 to 19.

* For boys, 31.6 of those aged 15 to 17 had ever had sex; 64.7 percent of those aged 18 to 19.

* Nearly 10 percent of young women aged 18 to 24 said their first intercourse was involuntary.

* Infections with the human immune deficiency virus that causes AIDS rose among boys aged 15 to 19 from from 1.3 cases per 100,000 in 1997 to 2.5 cases in 2006.

* Syphilis rates for females aged 15 to 19 rose from 1.5 cases per 100,000 in 2004 to 2.2 cases per 100,000 in 2006 after having plunged between 1997 and 2005.

One poisoning took place at a girls’ school in Charikar on Monday and another on April 26.

Nearly 90 young girls were taken to hospital after a suspected gas attack at their school in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the third in a series of such incidents north of Kabul, Afghan police and officials said.

The early morning mass poisoning at Qazaaq primary school in Kapisa province has put 94 people in hospital, mostly students but also three teachers and two guards, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemaray Bashary.

The patients were vomiting and dizzy and some had been knocked unconscious, the same symptoms shown by victims of suspected gas attacks on two girls’ schools in nearby Charikar town, said Abdul Rahim Ayaar, spokesman for the Kapisa governor.

One poisoning took place at a girls’ school in Charikar on Monday and another on April 26.

The students were all out of danger, Kapisa police chief Matiullah Safi told Reuters, confirming the toll of 94 injured.

Unusually, the three incidents took place in a part of the country that was never under the firm control of the hardline Taleban and kept its girls’ schools open while the austere Islamists ruled most of the country.

The government was investigating the poisonings, the interior ministry’s Mr Bashary said, but it was too early to determine who was behind them.

There have been no clues as to what the gas was in either case or where it came from. Blood samples have been sent to the nearby US Bagram airbase but results have not yet come back.

Attacks on girls schools have increased in the past year, particularly in the Taleban’s eastern and southern heartlands, as a Taleban insurgency has gathered strength. When the Taleban were in power in Kabul they banned women from work and schools.

Last year a group of schoolgirls in Kandahar had acid thrown in their faces by men who objected to them attending school.

Muslim women should be free to pursue a higher education no matter what their fathers say, according to a fatwa recently issued by the grand mufti of Egypt, a leading authority of Sunni Islam, according to The National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper.

The fatwa, which is similar to a nonbinding legal opinion, was issued last week by the mufti, Ali Gomaa. It states that Muslim women whose fathers forbid them to attend university or college may disobey their fathers as long as it is in their best interest.

“If a father wanted to prevent his daughter from seeking an education and she wanted otherwise, then she is not obliged to obey his wishes in this matter … because obeying the father is an obligation but only under the condition that no harm comes of it to the child,” according to Mr. Gomaa’s reasoning, which is derived from Islamic jurisprudence.

“The harm that befalls a girl for not receiving an education is clear and known. If she abandons her college education, then she will miss a great deal of enlightenment about her religion and about everyday knowledge,” the reasoning continued. “She will have a limited awareness of the world around her as compared to … her educated counterparts in society.”

It is not clear how far-reaching the fatwa’s influence will be, as there are no clear statistics on how many Muslim women are prevented from enrolling at a university or college by their families. However, one sign that significant barriers to higher education continue to exist for Muslim women is the fact that 42 percent of women in the Middle East and North Africa are illiterate, compared with 22 percent of men.

Even in wealthy Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates — where more women than men attend university — there remain pockets of extremely conservative families that forbid female members to pursue a higher degree.

Mr. Gomaa issued the fatwa in response to a question from the Emirati authorities about a father’s right to prevent his daughter from attending a university or college.

Few reporters showed up for the Supreme Court’s hearing of a sexual harassment case involving a kindergartner. But Allison Stevens(*) sat in the front row, to oral arguments by the Supreme Court in the case of Jacqueline Fitzgerald, a kindergartner from Hyannis, Mass., who was sexually harassed as she rode the bus to school.

It was one of the best seats I’ve ever had at a Supreme Court hearing, which are often packed full with reporters when the issues at stake are high-profile ones like affirmative action or abortion rights.

But the court’s Dec. 2 hearing drew no such crowd to hear about the sexual harassment allegations of a 5-year-old girl. And the court’s unanimous ruling in favor of the girl and her parents in January attracted little attention in the news media.

For most news media, sex discrimination cases are a yawn. Media attendance, for example, was fairly sparse at the case involving Lilly Ledbetter, who sued her former employer, a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Alabama, after she learned she had been receiving less pay than lower-qualified males in the same position.

That case only excited national attention months later when the court ruled against Ledbetter and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read a scathing dissent from the bench. At that point news organizations were hard pressed to find a photo of Ledbetter and several wound up buying the one I’d taken for Women’s eNews. Not even the Associated Press had bothered to keep a photograph of Ledbetter on file, I was told.

Last week, of course, U.S. lawmakers passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is designed to counteract the effects of the ruling. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law–his first–on Thursday.

In this more recent case, Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, a third-grade boy on Fitzgerald’s school bus would regularly force the 5-year-old to lift up her skirt and pull down her underpants, according to news reports.

It’s a horrible story, but at first I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see the media take a pass on this matter of schoolyard justice. The only times it seems to merit attention is when it’s too late, such as with the Columbine school shooting in Colorado in 1999, involving bullying of the non-sexual kind.

Sexual harassment and bullying are common on school grounds, according to Sexual Harassment Supports, an online advocacy site. Some 4 out of 5 children experience some form of sexual harassment or bullying, according to the site.

Indeed, it was an everyday occurrence at my junior high school in a suburb of Chicago. In homeroom, pre-pubescent seventh-grade boys would race around the classroom tackling me and other girls, thrusting their hands up our shirts and feeling our breasts all while our teacher rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Boys will be boys.”

Outside class, boys would cop a feel as they passed girls in the hallway. And I can only imagine what other kinds of harassment–or assault–happened outside public view.

I suffered no serious damage from the experience, but I do remember feeling embarrassed–and even slightly violated–from those junior high encounters.

Still, it never occurred to me to tell anyone in authority about what was going on, especially because an authority figure–our teacher–watched much of it happen. I cannot fathom having filed a lawsuit back then. Such a move would have been social suicide in the cutthroat hierarchy of junior high, where boys increasingly viewed girls as sexual curiosities rather than rival playmates.

But Fitzgerald, only 5 at the time she was harassed, did tell her parents, and they felt compelled to act. An adult now, I understand why they complained. How could a parent–or a teacher, or any adult, for that matter–allow a girl of any age to be harassed or assaulted? They don’t allow it in the workplace, so why should they allow it in the classroom or on the school bus? And if it’s so ordinary, doesn’t that mean it’s pervasive, and all the more deserving of immediate attention?

The Fitzgeralds seemed to think so. They complained to the school principal, who commenced an investigation and tried to identify the perpetrator and resolve the issue. But according to legal summaries of the case, the principal would not agree to the parents’ request to place an adult monitor on the bus or assign the perpetrator to a different bus.

The Fitzgeralds then sued the school district on two counts: alleged violations of Title IX, the law that guarantees equality for girls and boys in schools that receive federal funding, and the equal protection clause of the Constitution, which is enforced through Section 1983 of the U.S. Federal Code.

A district court judge ruled that the school did not meet the “deliberate indifference” standard required by Title IX because it did take some steps to look into the matter. The district court also said the Fitzgeralds could not launch a competing constitutional equal protection claim. A federal appeals court upheld the decision.

But in an unexpected unanimous decision, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ ruling. Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said: “We hold that Section 1983 suits based on the equal protection clause remain available to plaintiffs alleging unconstitutional gender discrimination in schools.”

The Fitzgeralds are now free to pursue their suit on constitutional grounds and have laid the groundwork for countless other parents who want to protect their daughters or sons from discrimination in the form of harassment or assault.

If that happens, maybe sexual harassment will become a little less ordinary, and considered a little more newsworthy when a gender discrimination case reaches the Supreme Court.

(* Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews)

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

Every day, as they walked to school, Maryam Mansoor and her sister ran a gauntlet of intimidation and harassment by youths armed with knives.

“A lot of my classmates and other female students don’t come to school anymore because they fear the boys’ harassment and kidnappings,” said Maryam, 18, who finally quit school at her worried father’s behest.

From acid attacks, murder, torching of schools and sexual assault, violence against female students is dashing the dreams of thousands of Afghan girls and women who are thirsty for an education that may help rejuvenate the fractured economy and society of their war-torn country.

“I like to go to school and later I want to go to university to be a doctor or someone important in the future, but I don’t want to make my family upset because of my education. Whatever my father has decided is right,” Maryam sighed despairingly.

In villages, and particularly in the deeply conservative south, the Taliban have burnt down schools, killed female students and teachers and attacked schoolgirls by throwing acid in their faces.

In relatively safer and less conservative Kabul, girls are facing abuse, sexual harassment and kidnappings.

“The security situation is worsening everyday. In spite of all the problems, I continued to let them go to school but now I feel like things are getting worse,” said Maryam’s father Mohammad, who owns a fruit shop in Kabul.

“I am not against my girls completing their education, but their safety is more important … I don’t want them to study outside any more,” said Mohammad, who brought his family back to Afghanistan from Iran about two years ago.

Under the Taliban, ousted from Kabul by U.S. and Afghan forces in 2001, women were barred from study and work and were largely unable to leave their homes without a male relative.

The Afghan government has sought to improve access to education for both boys and girls. Some 6.2 million young Afghans, including two million girls now attend school, compared with less than one million, only male students, under the Taliban.

Afghanistan is still a deeply traditional and conservative society. Even without the Taliban, some in Kabul oppose young women attending school.

Many feel that once girls reach puberty, leaving the home, even for school, might cast doubt on their honour. Many of the jeering young men hanging around outside schools and following the girls home clearly believe that too.

“In spite of the police presence near every school, the boys manage to tease girls and even kidnap them and sexually abuse them,” said a school teacher, who asked not to be named.

“Dozens of schoolgirls don’t come to school anymore due to insecurity and intimidation from street boys,” she added.

The government says increased harassment and the threat of kidnapping could leave a generation of young Afghans deprived of an education as they retreat to the safety of the home.

That is on top of the already huge security problems facing education in Afghanistan.

“In the past eight months, around 138 students and teachers have lost their lives and another 172 have been wounded in criminal and terror attacks,” said Asif Nang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education.

“About 651 schools have become inactive mostly due to insecurity and another 122 school buildings have been blown up or burned down across the country,” said Nang, adding the Ministry of Education was working to improve protection and security for teachers and students across the country.

Some 173,443 students, both men and women, are also unable to go to school or gain an education because security concerns are preventing new schools from being built in the first place, according to Nang.

In November, 15 female students and teachers had acid thrown in their faces by men in the southern province of Kandahar.

While Taliban militants, fighting to overthrow the Western-backed government and expel foreign troops, are behind the attacks in the provinces and the south, those harassing girls in Kabul are usually unemployed young men, Nang said.

The police have at times rounded up the groups of youths, but Nang said many of them “have good connections with some police officials – the boys are released back after detention because they are well connected”.

“We request Afghan and foreign forces including elders to get involved and to take extra measures in providing security for all students and teachers,” Nang added.

Taliban militants have banned female education in northwest Pakistan valley of Swat, depriving more than 40,000 girls of schooling while holding security forces at bay, officials said on Saturday.

“My daughters are sitting at home. Their future looks bleak because they will stay uneducated and I don’t see any improvement in situation,” said Mohammad Ayub, father of two girls whose school was blown up by militants in October.

There has been fighting in the valley for more than a year, but residents say the military is losing control, and government has already lost its writ to militants who aim to impose a severe form of Islamic law.

“The security forces are everywhere but security is deteriorating day by day. We don’t know when will it normalise,” Ibrahim Khan, a worried councillor said by telephone from Swat.

Swat is just one front the militants have opened up as violence has spread across North West Frontier Province from the adjoining semi-autonomous tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

The rapid destabilisation of almost the entire northwest has hardened Pakistani reservations over the cost of supporting the United States and other Western powers who have sent troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.

In one week last month, according to a senior military official, militants beheaded 13 people, including police, opposed to their way of life.

Many families have fled for the nearby cities of Peshawar and Mardan, while many police officers have either deserted or simply refused to serve.

“There is no government here,” the senior military official said.

Blessed with gorgeous alpine scenery, Swat had been a popular tourist destination, despite deep-seated Islamic conservatism, among communities nestling among the mountains and lakes.

That changed dramatically in late 2007, when militant leader Mullah Fazlullah led a revolt just months after the army put down an uprising at Islamabad’s Red Mosque, where clerics had also used militancy in a campaign to enforce Islamic law in the Pakistani capital.

The killing of scores of people, including women and children, during the army’s siege of Red Mosque had ignited Islamist anger with the government and contributed to the wave of violence that has gripped Pakistan since then.

While the military has received reinforcements in Swat, so have the militants, as fighters fleeing military operations in tribal regions like Bajaur and Mohmand have joined Fazlullah’s ranks.

Last month, the Taliban issued an ultimatum warning parents against sending their daughters to school, saying female education was “unIslamic”.

The warning was reiterated by a close aide to Fazlullah in a message broadcast through an illegal FM radio station on Friday night.

Government schools have been shut down, and some 300 private schools due to reopen next month after the winter break will probably remain closed, a senior official said.

He said the militants have destroyed or damaged around 175 girls schools in recent months.

The only schools that have been unaffected by the Taliban ban are the small, poorly funded religious madrasas in mosques where young girls go to learn Koran.

Many parents have kept their daughters away from these schools too, out of fear that some Taliban may not approve.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has offered strong words, saying the closure of the schools was contrary to Islam, and warned the militants would pay for their anti-state actions.

“Nobody will be allowed to challenge the writ of the government,” a statement issued from the prime minister’s office quoted him as saying on Friday.

The UN chief has urged world leaders to follow through on their commitment to poverty elimination

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said poverty in sub-Saharan Africa had increased between 1990 and 2005, and women and girls are most affected by bias and neglect. He was addressing the 63rd annual UN General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in New York.

“Women and girls suffer persistent bias and neglect, evidenced by disturbing gender gaps in health, education, employment and empowerment,” said Ban. He added that the current financial crisis in the US and other countries is threatening the well-being of billions of people, especially the ‘poorest of the poor’. This, he said, only compounds the damage being caused by much higher prices of food and fuel.

“We are the first generation to possess the resources, knowledge and skills to eliminate poverty. Experience shows that where there is strong political resolve, we see progress. And where there is partnership, there are gains,” said the UN chief.

He has appealed to world leaders and delegates to rise to the challenge and ‘inject new energy’ into the global partnership for development.

Ban is pleased with the MDGs achievements so far. “We are on the way to cutting extreme poverty and hunger in half by 2015,” he said.

The MDGs were adopted in September 2000 by presidents and prime ministers of 189 countries. The aim is to find ways to improve the well-being of the poorest of the poor by 2015.

Qualifying the successes, Ban said: “Measles vaccinations have prevented 7.5 million deaths. Inroads have been made against Aids. There is surging school enrolment in several African countries, following the abolition of school fees and millions of poor households have risen out of extreme poverty, not just in China and India, but in many countries, including some of the poorest.”

He added that while they’re moving in the right direction, they’re not moving quickly enough. “Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds. Yet, much faster than anyone expected, we are close to containing this scourge,” he said. An optimistic Ban reaffirmed, however, that all is on track to end malaria deaths by 2015.

He urged the leaders to live up to their responsibilities. “I ask you to be bold in your commitments. I ask you to be generous.” Ban also proposed that a formal summit be held in 2010 in order to take stock of the MDG goals.,2172,177462,00.html

An Auckland primary school teacher moonlighting as a prostitute will have to wait for a decision on her future employment by her school’s board of trustees.

The new teacher, a mother in her 30s with two children, has been working as a prostitute to supplement her income, the Herald on Sunday reported.

The newspaper, which did not name the teacher or her school, said a parent told the teacher’s principal, who was balancing a possible negative reaction from parents with the woman’s right to work in a job that has been legal in New Zealand since 2003.

It has been referred to the school’s board of trustees, which will meet in committee to debate whether to ignore the issue, discipline the teacher or ask the Teachers’ Council to decide.

The woman reportedly told the principal that her action in her own time was not his concern, and that it was not affecting her ability as a teacher.

Teachers Council director Peter Lind said the most important factor was whether the teacher’s second job was affecting her teaching duties, “and there would have to be actual evidence”.

Employment lawyer John Hannan, who knew of the case, said a school could possibly take action even if it didn’t have a policy either preventing teachers taking secondary jobs or ensuring they first seek approval from their board. “It’s a case of whether the outside employment is regarded as incompatible with the role of a teacher in terms of role-modelling and in terms of any policies that the board of trustees might have in place.”

Another employment lawyer, Patrick Walsh, said the council could intervene if the school deemed the teacher’s second job involved “conduct that brings discredit to the profession”.

Prostitutes Collective national coordinator Catherine Healy said there were several teachers who had second jobs as prostitutes.

Frances Nelson, the president of the Education Institute, the union for 97 per cent of primary school teachers, said some teachers had secondary employment for various reasons, and it was up to individual schools as to whether they had to seek approval. But it was the first case to her knowledge of a teacher moonlighting as a prostitute.

If the teacher was a member of the NZEI, the union would support her through any employment process, she said.

Two years ago, an Auckland policewoman was disciplined after it was discovered she had an extra job as a sex worker. The woman kept her police job after an investigation.

The number of girls in poor countries who marry before the age of 18 will double to 100 million in the next decade, putting many at risk from AIDS, a report said last Thursday.

A global food crisis is making matters worse by pushing more families in the developing world to send young daughters into marriage to deal with poverty, the survey from humanitarian group World Vision found.

Child brides suffer because they often end their education early and are more likely to be injured or to die during childbirth because their bodies are not fully developed.

“Complications during childbearing and delivery are most common in this age set, significantly raising the risk of death, premature delivery, infant mortality and low birth weight,” the report said.

An estimated 3,500 girls marry each day before their 15th birthday and another 21,000 do so before they are 18 — figures the humanitarian group said would balloon in coming years.

While the practice occurs worldwide and in wealthy nations too, it is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Central America, the report said.

The highest child marriage rates were in Bangladesh where nearly 53 percent of girls married before the age of 15, followed by Niger at almost 38 percent, Chad at about 35 percent, and Ethiopia and India at about 31 percent.

“It is most prevalent in communities and households where the starkest poverty mixes with cultural traditions and lack of education to limit a girl’s perceived value and potential,” it said.

Another issue is that many young brides are forced to have sex before their bodies are ready, and few have access to reliable contraception and reproductive health advice.

“Forced sex causes skin and tissue damage that makes a female more susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted infections from her husband,” the report reads.

Raising awareness is key to stopping child marriage and using school and community workshops can help at risk families.

Working with tribal leaders, faith healers and other community members is also important as is ensuring families have the means to put food on the table and earn a living so they do not have to marry off young daughters, it added.

Samia, aged 10, is one of the few girls in her village who attend school. “I like to learn. I like my school. I want to bring education to everyone here when I grow up,” she says.

The village of al-Quraiti, in al-Zaydia District of al-Hudeidah Governorate, western Yemen, is typical of many in rural Yemen, where women spend hours fetching water on donkeys and illiteracy rates are high. It is here that Samia attends Sumayah primary school.

It has 60 girls in the first grade but only 15 in grade seven, indicating that many do not progress far.

“To bring children into school is easy but keeping them in school is difficult,” said Nasim Ur-Rehman, chief communications and information officer at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen.

Hudeidah Governorate had 356,183 students in primary school in 2007. Of these, 148,919 were girls and the rest boys, according to the al-Hudeidah education office. In grade one, there were 40,202 boys and 34,051 girls, while in grade nine there were 9,924 boys against 6,649 girls, indicating a high dropout rate among girls.

UNICEF, in cooperation with the Education Ministry, has launched a several-week-long national campaign to promote girls’ education – mobilising parents, community leaders, officials, religious leaders, the media and children themselves. Focusing on six of Yemen’s 21 governorates and the Island of Socotra, it aims to distribute campaign materials and use TV and radio to get its message across.

“The national campaign comes at the most opportune time. Yemen suffers from low enrolment when it comes to primary education. The retention of children and completion of primary school is not very good,” UNICEF’s Ur-Rehman told IRIN.

He said there was a huge gender gap: “Girls are somehow at a disadvantage: they are the last to be sent to school and the first to be pulled out,” he said.

According UNICEF, across Yemen there are 63 girls per 100 boys in primary school in urban areas and 45 per 100 in rural areas.

Poverty, early marriage, lack of female teachers and child-friendly schools, especially in rural areas where 75 percent of Yemen’s 21 million people live, are the main factors.

“Early marriage is a big problem… Girls lose out on in terms of education when they are married in another area,” Sumayah school’s headmistress told IRIN.

The head of al-Zaydia District’s education office, Abdul-Bari Mohammed, said there was a shortage of female teachers: 14 schools in the district had closed since 2005 due to the lack of female teachers. Many communities did not allow male teachers to teach girls.

Ali Bahloul, head of al-Hudeidah’s education office, told IRIN that large families (common in rural areas) meant children were often sent to school at too young an age simply to prevent them from getting into trouble at home. “Education is not their [the parents] main concern. Children are enrolled in school too young,” he said, adding: “The minimum age should at least be six or seven for primary school enrolment.”

Sumayah primary school for girls, which Samia attends, has been selected as one of UNICEF’s “child-friendly schools” as part of its “framework for rights-based, child-friendly educational systems and schools” [see:].

Some 30 percent of UNICEF’s resources in Yemen have been earmarked for education programmes, according to Ur-Rehman. UNICEF has allocated US$317,231 for girls’ education in al-Hudeidah alone.

In 2007, UNICEF recruited 377 female secondary graduates from rural communities in the six targeted governorates. Some 115 of them were selected in al-Hudeidah Governorate. Each female teacher is paid a monthly salary of US$100 by UNICEF. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the ministries of planning, the civil service and education to guarantee the absorption of the 377 female teachers after three years.

Yemen is ranked bottom (128 out of 128 countries listed) on the Global Gender Gap Index for 2007. [see:]

See earlier report Campaign to enhance girls’ education in Yemen