Remarks at UNESCO Global Partnership for Girls' and Women's Education

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Paris, France
May 26, 2011

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Director General, for that introduction, but more than that, for your leadership of this very important international institution. You are here in a large auditorium with so many people who believe in the mission of UNESCO, which has long been a vital force for the advancement of human progress. And you, Director General Bokova, are giving it new life and purpose, and we are very grateful to you. (Applause.)

I also want to recognize Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for his commitment to UNESCO’s work and success and for his leadership on so many issues from promoting peace to advancing maternal and child health. And Secretary General, thank you for sharing that personal story. (Applause.) It is important to be reminded that we all come from somewhere, and we are all on the same journey, and the sacrifices made by so many to enable us to be up here on this stage, and those of you – prime ministers, ministers, ambassadors, excellencies – to be working here at UNESCO is part of the reason we believe in what we are doing. We believe that for every woman and girl and man and woman – man and boy in the world, we can build a better future.

And so I wish to thank all of you for your hard work to preserve culture, improve education, increase scientific collaboration, and bring people together. I’ve just walked through the Africa Week exhibit. And I had a chance to meet the ambassadors from Africa, and I congratulate them for working to make this week a special one. Every week should be because every week is about what we can do together.

The director general and I had a chance to discuss the projects that UNESCO is pursuing around the world. And I told her that cultural preservation is a life-long passion for me. In the late 1990s, I was honored to start an initiative in my own country called Save America’s Treasures and to work with partners around the world to protect historic sites and cultural landmarks. Forty years ago, the United States was the first nation in the world to ratify the World Heritage Convention. And today, we remain committed to working with UNESCO and others to preserve humanity’s cultural legacy.

The United States firmly supports UNESCO’s work from the Pacific tsunami warning system that helped alert people across the region after Japan’s devastating earthquake, to new partnerships on water and resources that are so important, and recently the critical conference on press freedom that the United States was very happy to host. (Applause.) And I was delighted to learn that UNESCO will be supporting a new world center for women artists in Jordan. (Applause.)

And there were so many good announcements of new public/private partnerships with companies such as Microsoft and Proctor & Gamble and institutions such as the Packard Foundation and so many others who are reaching in as you are reaching out to tap the energy and expertise of those who can come to the table with not just money – as important as that is – but new perspectives and experience.

We’re doing the same at the State Department where I believe that diplomacy whether it’s on behalf of a country or on behalf of educational or social or cultural diplomacy on behalf of the United Nations needs to be a much broader effort, and there are so many opportunities for us to work together. It is because of our deep commitment to UNESCO and all of these efforts that the United States is running for reelection to the executive board. We are eager to keep working with you to ensure that UNESCO’s future is strong and secure.

And I want particularly to underscore our support for the director general’s new focus on women and girls’ education. I have been kept apprised by our ambassador, Ambassador Killion and all the work that you are doing to support this initiative. And I am confident that by working with other UN agencies, institutions, and private sector partners, UNESCO can help make a much needed difference for women and girls and their educational opportunities around the world.

You’ve already heard from the director general and the secretary general that we know opening the doors of education to women and girls is not just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing as well. The evidence shows conclusively that even one extra year of schooling leads to significantly higher wages for women and girls, which allows them to lift up themselves, their families, and contribute to their communities and countries. We have seen that when women and girls have the opportunity to pursue education, GDP grows for entire societies.

And the benefits are not just economic. More education leads to more choices, opportunities, and useful information in how to live one’s life. Birth rates, HIV infections, incidents of domestic violence, female cutting all decline when education rises. Fully one half of the drop in child mortality achieved between 1970 and 1990 can be attributed to increased education for women and girls.

Yet women still represent about two-thirds of the nearly 800 million illiterate adults around the world. In our poorest communities, girls who are out of school today are still more likely than boys never even to start school, and this is a recipe for economic and social stagnation. No society can achieve its full potential when half the population is denied the opportunity to achieve theirs. UNESCO is already doing such important work. You’re documenting and beginning to reverse these trends.

(Coughing.) Let me get some water. This is what comes from talking too much. (Laughter.) We already know that talking too much leads to all kinds of problems. (Laughter.) (Applause.) However, as we are reminded every day, talking is far better than the alternatives. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

This organization continues to be a global leader on literacy, thanks in part to the efforts of one of my predecessors, former First Lady Laura Bush, who visited UNESCO, I believe, three times and has worked very hard to promote literacy. UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics and the Education for All Global Monitoring Report provides valuable information on the education of women and girls and the analysis of best practices.

So as we celebrate the launch of UNESCO’s new Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education, it’s time to build on the strong foundation that has already been created, but to take additional steps. The United States is proud to join with UNESCO to launch what we hope will be an important new study on education for women and girls around the world. And before you say, “Another report,” which is often the reaction, let me quickly add that this report will draw on UNESCO’s unique expertise in data collection and analysis to provide new insights into the causes of gender disparities and education and what we can do about them. It will focus in particular on two critical areas: adult literacy and secondary education. We are making progress in many parts of the world on primary education, but something happens at the end of primary school. And we also do not have enough opportunities around the world who adults who missed schooling to be able to return to acquire skills.

Now, one might think, “Well, don’t we already know all there is about the value of educating women and girls?” Well, to a certain extent we do. But the research alone is not what we’re aiming at, because that cannot solve the problem. Only concerted action that builds on what we know can do that. But more comprehensive data and analysis will help policy makers target our investments where they can have the greatest impact. This is especially true for girls, because too often the available data we have on education is not broken down by gender. It’s just not disaggregated, so we don’t have a precise picture of whether schools are serving girls as well as they should, whether they are learning to read, write, do arithmetic at the levels they need to succeed and what the obstacles are.

I remember sitting in a village in Pakistan some years ago, and the women of the village were with me under a tree talking about the importance of education. And one woman proudly told me she had 10 children, five boys and five girls. And she was determined that every child would get an education. But then she said, “But you see our school,” and she pointed to a quite substantial cinderblock building that had become the village school. “You see our school. When our boys finish there they can go off to the secondary school, but we cannot let our girls leave the village. It would not be safe.”

We hope this study will give us a deeper understanding of all the obstacles that must be overcome so that women and girls can pursue their full God-given potential. And it will help us make the case that advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls is not a marginal concern, but a central challenge of international development. Early today, I spoke at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development about the role women and girls play in sustainable development. And we agreed on the value of good data and sound analysis, and in particular, we discussed the importance of data that is widely comparable and applicable so that nations, institutions, and NGOs can make the full maximum use of all the findings. There is so much exciting work being done and so much more we can accomplish if we do work together effectively and efficiently, and particularly if international organizations such as UNESCO make it their mission to ensure that all data is comparable, no matter who collects it, that we have some standard measures and systems of analysis. So this new UNESCO study will not just be an important step forward to get information, but the test will be how we use this information, whether we can pioneer innovative partnerships to create new opportunities for women and girls to learn and prosper.

For example, the United States has partnered with the NGO Room to Read to support girls from South Asia who are at risk of dropping out of school. This is a small project. We invested only $145,000 in things like school uniforms, shoes, educational supplies, and medical checkups. And we also put in place support for mentoring programs, tutoring and community organizing. Not a single one of the more than 1,000 participating girls dropped out of school. Why? Because somebody was trying to figure out what was the reason. Now, I know most girls worry about how they look – it doesn’t matter what culture they’re in. So if they don’t have the right school uniform, or they don’t feel that they’re looking acceptable to their peers, that alone can be enough to cause them to drop out.

So trying to get information that we then can add up so it’s not just helping one individual girl but helping thousands, millions of girls is what we hope this global partnership will achieve. It will yield long-term benefits, and that will far outstrip our investments. Now the Room – the program that I just talked about is just one of many. There are so many other examples, and UNESCO has successful efforts to use mobile phone technology to promote literacy. These initiatives suggest that the possibilities are endless about what we can do it give the rights and opportunities that girls and women deserve and make them a true global priority. We’re committed to this cause, and I know many of you are as well.

I am proud to the be the first Secretary of State from the United States ever to come to UNESCO, and I come because – (applause) – I believe strongly in your mission, but I also know that in every organization in the world today, in my government, in the State Department and USAID, for which I’m responsible, and everywhere else, we’re all having to ask ourselves how can we work smarter, how can we be more efficient, how do we clear away any obstacle or bureaucratic barrier that is standing in the way of us meeting the very lofty goals we have set?

So I come today, yes, to express appreciation for the work you have done, but also to urge that you take a hard look at how UNESCO can be even better: What can be done more efficiently? What doesn’t need to be done anymore? How do we find new avenues for cooperation among international institutions, with countries, with NGOs, with the private sector?

So let me thank all of you. Let me thank the director general, because she has the leadership and the vision that UNESCO deserves in the 21st century. And let me thank you for your commitment and dedication. And finally, let me say how pleased I am that you’re focusing with such intensity on education for women and girls, because I know that will pay great benefits for all of the people who will be waiting to see whether those of us who are working on their behalf can actually make a difference to help them have that better life they so richly deserve. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2011/T47-07