PUT GIRLS IN SCHOOL TO END GLOBAL HUNGER AND POVERTY, SAYS WFP HEAD
March 7, 2001
ROME - The head of the United Nations World Food Programme has called on the international community to help send girls in developing countries to school, citing girls’ education as one of the most effective weapons there is for ending global hunger and poverty.
Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of WFP, who issued the challenge in advance on International Women’s Day tomorrow, said that closing the massive gap between boys’ and girls’ school enrolment should be the top priority for the international community in poor and underdeveloped countries.
"There is now a critical mass of experience and evidence proving the value of educating girls," said Bertini. "It is virtually impossible to overestimate the importance of giving a young girl the opportunity to spend even a few years in school before her working life begins."
Bertini, who has made gender equality one of the policy cornerstones of WFP, noted that of the estimated 875 million illiterate adults in the world today, two-thirds are women.
And yet, girls who go to school marry later than girls who don’t, and they have fewer and healthier children, Bertini said, citing studies showing that mothers who complete primary education will have an average of two children fewer than those women with no schooling.
In his new book, The Third Freedom: Fighting Hunger in Our Time, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN agencies in Rome, George McGovern, notes that for each additional year of education girls in a community receive, the birth rate goes down by 10 percent.
Moreover, mothers with some education give their children more enlightened care and have more resources to provide for them. Educated women also have a bigger income potential.
"In school, young girls not only learn to read and write, they also gain an understanding of the possibilities in life that education can create," said Bertini. "I know of one little girl in Benin who was returned to school because we gave her parents cooking oil the whole family could use. Over that one year in school, she got the idea that she wanted to train to be a nurse and work in a hospital. And this was a girl who had never known anything but doing manual labour for her family. By putting girls like her
in school, we are helping create their dreams and aspirations."
WFP, the world’s largest food aid agency, has been promoting girls’ education through this "take-home rations" programme since 1991, when the first such project was launched in Yemen. Today, "take-home" programmes in 16 countries are giving millions of girls the chance to achieve literacy.
WFP, which has been supporting school feeding programs for more than 30 years, today manages the biggest such program in the world. In 1999, WFP gave a meal or some form of food to 11.2 million schoolchildren in 52 countries – and just over five million of those, nearly 50 percent, were girls.