Education, especially on women’s rights, is key to advancing equality
Education is an essential pillar for advancing women’s rights worldwide, especially when it is used as a tool to strengthen gender equality and feminist solidarity, Right Livelihood Laureates and a UN expert said during a panel discussion on Monday, June 20.
Organised as a side event of the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the panel discussion focused on the role of education as a vital tool for achieving gender equality, which has been set as Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 by the United Nations.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare that progress towards reaching this goal has been severely lagging, Adriana Quinones, the Director of UN Women’s Geneva Office, said as she summarised the state of affairs.
“Covid was a very good window to really understand what structural discrimination is,” she said.
While many governments have taken steps toward achieving gender equality, many of these measures are on paper only with not much support or oversight for their implementation.
In addition, the pandemic also wiped out some of the hard-earned gains. For example, women were already bearing the brunt of unpaid labour such as child-rearing and taking care of elderly relatives. The progress made in involving them in the labour market was quickly erased when the pandemic hit because women were the first ones to be let go.
“What Covid has done is to show us what the real picture is and how, unless we take very radical measures, we are not going to meet any of the SGDs, but particularly SDG 5,” Quinones said.
Cameroonian girl’s rights activist and 2021 Right Livelihood Laureate Marthe Wandou said that allowing girls to attend school is in and of itself a protection against early marriage and sexual abuse.
“Being at school, they escape from the eyes of potential perpetrators,” Wandou said. “Because at the age of 11,12, 13, girls are asked for marriage. When they go to school, they’re out of [the sight of] those perpetrators.”
Schools also provide alternative routes for girls and change mindsets, especially in the context of harmful cultural norms such as early marriages.
“We consider education as a strong pillar for social transformation,” Wandou said.
She added that her work includes educating both girls and boys on the harmful impacts of early marriage and sexual abuse to foster new norms among young generations.
Using education specifically to advance women’s rights is also key, said 2016 Right Livelihood Laureate Mozn Hassan, who is a women’s rights activist in the Middle East-North Africa region.
“I think it’s really important to focus on education as a tool for building movements and solidarity from a feminist perspective,” Hassan said.
An important aspect of this is using feminist education to challenge stereotypes and power dynamics and help people in the region develop their own voices.
“Having this alternative feminist education is important for the narratives and the existence of the narratives of those young women and men in countries and societies which have lots of people are speaking on their behalf,” Hassan said.
She called for “constructive solidarity” from the international community towards local women’s initiatives, especially when it comes to funding their activities.
Petra Tötterman, the Secretary-General of 2002 Right Livelihood Laureate organisation Kvinna till Kvinna, also stressed the importance of funding women activists working on the ground, noting that less than 1 per cent of official development assistance goes to women’s organisations.
“Definitely, my number one priority would be in funding these movements, these organisations, to push for change that will last,” she said. “Because change that is brought up from within the countries, within the communities, that’s the change that will last.”
Tötterman also highlighted that girls’ access to education is usually the first right to be violated when conflicts and crises break out.
“Women and girls are paying for crises caused by others with a lack of access to education,” she said. “At the same time, we know how extremely important and what an incredible tool girls and women’s education and learning can be.”
The panel discussion was organised by Right Livelihood as part of our advocacy work highlighting Laureates’ work at international fora and connecting them to global decision-makers.