Human Rights Day

Remarks by the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet at the “Stand up for Malala: Girls’ education is a right” event at UNESCO Headquarters

Date: Monday, December 10, 2012

Remarks by the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet at the “Stand up for Malala: Girls' education is a right event at UNESCO Headquarters. Paris, France, 10 December 2012.

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Today, let us make a renewed pledge to the countless girls and boys of our shared planet.
YES - I can get an education free of fear, free of discrimination and free of violence.
YES - I can be who I want to be.
This is what we owe to Malala.
This is what we owe to every individual who stands up for human rights.

Some seven hundred years ago, a woman of this city wrote :
“Not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.

These are the words of Christine de Pizan.
Education has since been enshrined as a basic human right.
Today, on this Human Rights Day, we celebrate the right of all men and women to make their voices heard and to participate fully in public life.

We dedicate this day to Malala and her strong voice, a voice that she raised for so many young girls around the world, a voice of hope for access to education.

A girl's right to a life of opportunity, of dignity, of freedom from violence, and of a voice in her society are all at risk when she cannot go to school.

Education is protection against threats to her future — early marriage and pregnancy, HIV infection, poverty, and domestic and sexual violence.
Education is opportunity to earn a decent living and invest in the well-being of her children and family.
Education is an opportunity to fully participate in society and build a better future.

For every year of education a woman receives beyond grade four, the risk of her child dying of preventable causes is reduced by 10 percent. A child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive.

When I spoke at the first anniversary of UNESCO's Global Partnership for Girls' and Women's Education this past May, I spoke of the progress we have made in increasing access to education- and of the many countries that have achieved gender parity in primary and secondary schools. But I also spoke of what lies ahead.

We need more than parity—we need a breakthrough. We need equality in education that leads to opportunities and choices for a better future; in education that allows men and women to be equal participants in the social, economic and political development of their societies.

UN Women is proud to be a part of the Secretary-General's Education First Initiative. We're working with UNESCO and our partners to put girls in school, and to keep them there. But we also recognize that it's not just the quantity, but the quality of education that matters. Education must be accessible, relevant to the challenges of the future, and give the tools to every child for a healthy, peaceful and fulfilling future.

In all the places I have visited as Executive Director of UN Women, one thing always strikes me: the enthusiasm and the drive of girls to learn, to have the chance to finish their education, to be active in the lives of their communities and nations, to realize their own potential.

You can see it in the eyes of young girls around the world. You can see it in the eyes of Malala and hear it in her brave words and actions.

We do not need more arguments - we need ACTION. Malala expects ACTION of us, as do millions and millions of girls and boys who are the present and future of our world.

Thank you.