“A perfect world where people are equal can only be achieved if we provide universal education.” – UN Women Executive Director

Opening remarks by UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the World Education Forum 2015, held on 19 May, in Incheon, Republic of Korea.


[As delivered]

Madame President Geun-hye, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon,  Excellencies, your, colleagues and co-conveners of this wonderful conference, leaders from civil society, ladies and gentlemen.

I am extremely pleased to be here today at the opening of the World Education Forum 2015.

I thank the Director-General of UNESCO for inviting UN Women, and for the opportunity to be a co-convener of this wonderful conference. I also want to thank the other co-conveners for their collaboration.

At UN Women we regard education as one of the most important and worthwhile human endeavours, with the highest rate of return.  It is the only way to turn the youth demographic dividend into the development of nations and to make an attempt to end intergenerational poverty.

The Education For All agenda and the related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have led to some significant advances in education since 2000.

We have seen unprecedented progress in access to formal education and schooling and in gender parity, especially in primary education. Almost all countries have tried hard to open the doors of learning for the largest number of young people in history. We have to build on this success and address the shortcomings.

We have the highest number of graduates emerging from tertiary education – in some countries more women than men.

But this progress is not translating sufficiently into decent jobs and employment for women, nor to a full realization of their rights.

Still, two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. There are more children in school who are still not learning and many more who are dropping out.

Post-2015 we have to deliver change for women and girls.

Recent studies show that discrimination for women and girls is intersecting and cumulative. The number of girls and women affected calls us to double our efforts.

We have to make sure that schools and education are accessible to all those who need them and that schools are safe - so that going to school for a boy or a girl in Nigeria and in Pakistan is not an act of bravery.

Girls from rural areas, ethnic minorities and indigenous groups continue to have the lowest levels of literacy and education. These are the girls that need to be targeted to benefit from our efforts, so that we can truly make sure that we do not leave anyone behind.

Where public services are missing - like safe water sources, enough healthcare workers, and care facilities for both young and the old– the deficit is made up primarily by women and girls. This is why infrastructure and macro-economic policies are relevant for enabling a progressive path for girls and women.

Poor infrastructure impacts on the retention of girls – especially adolescents girls – in secondary education.

Globally, women do nearly two and a half times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. That directly impacts women’s capacity to access education and training.

We have to recognize the need to redistribute unpaid care work so that it does not continue to be a barrier to girls’ and women’s progress.

Formal education can go a long way in teaching us about equality. It has to be part of the range of instruments we use to enhance gender equality. We have to make sure that from a very early age boys and girls are introduced to a value system that embraces gender equality, so that the generations to come are truly equipped for equality.

Men and boys must play an important role in bringing about far-reaching changes in our societies. 

Education empowers girls and women to take full charge of their own lives and to actively participate in the development of their communities and countries - as both beneficiaries and agents of change.

We must make a concerted effort to push to remove all the identified constraints and to ensure that we realize the life-changing, empowering impact of education.

A perfect world where people are equal can only be achieved if we provide universal education. This requires a bold vision and decision-making whose time has come, whose time is now.

As we adopt the post-2015 global agenda, we must make sure that we do not leave the women’s agenda behind – or we will not be able to benefit to the extent intended.

This Forum provides a crucial opportunity to address the gaps and ensure the fulfilment of the Education for All promise, as the bedrock of peaceful, just and equal societies.UN Women is advocating strongly for a truly transformative post-2015 sustainable development agenda that will change the unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities. This cannot wait. Education is a fundamental part of this change. Our leaders, our experts and our parents need to believe in the change and invest in bringing about this change. 

We fully support Education 2030 as part of our overall drive for gender equality by 2030.

Let us seize the momentum, let us seize the moment to make real change, for all, and together.

Thank you.