UNESCO End of Year Review

Remarks by Mikiko Tanaka, UN Resident Coordinator, at UNESCO End of Year Review

Education transforms lives. As United Nations Messenger of Peace Malala Yousafzai once said: “one child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world”.

Today, education is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We need education to reduce inequalities and improve health.

We need education to achieve gender equality and eliminate child marriage.

We need education to protect our planet’s resources.

And we need education to fight hate speech, xenophobia and intolerance, and to nurture global citizenship.

Yet at least 262 million children, adolescents and youth are out of school, most of them girls.  Millions more who attend school are not mastering the basics.

This is a violation of their human right to education. The world cannot afford a generation of children and young people who lack the skills they need to compete in the 21st century economy, nor can we afford to leave behind half of humanity.

Education can also break and reverse cycles of intergenerational poverty. Studies show that if all girls and boys complete secondary education, 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty.

We must do far more to advance Sustainable Development Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

I would like to take a moment to talk about education and gender-based and family violence.   This past year, the UN and the EU embarked on a wide stakeholder consultation to formulate the Guyana country programme for the Spotlight Initiative to stop violence against women and girls.  We analysed the deep complexities behind the scourge of gender-based violence and family violence. 

The recently published Guyana Women’s Health and Family Life Experience Survey revealed that one in two Guyanese women experience violence in their lifetime from their intimate partners, current or former.  Guyana has the highest femicide rate in Latin America and the Caribbean – 8.8 women out of 100,000 are killed by their intimate partners. 

Guyanese stakeholders have commonly talked about the perceived normalcy of GBV and family violence across ethnic, religious, geographic, socio-economic spectrums.  An intergenerational vicious cycle appears everywhere where children see or experience abuse and violence in their homes and communities.  In effect, this becomes a life textbook for their own interpersonal relationships as they grow up.  They become victims, perpetrators or bystanders of abuse and violence.    

Traditional gender roles and power relationships where men are expected to be the breadwinner and “king” of the house or boss in public space contribute to women being subjected to abuse, harassment and violence, although men and boys can also be victims.  Children growing up in broken or abusive family environments often lack self-esteem, emotional maturity and social skills.  We see adolescent mothers and fathers (if they remain with their partner) who have yet to learn life and parenting skills – another intergenerational vicious cycle in creation. 

Education is critical in disrupting these vicious cycles.  In the formal school system, Health and Family Life Education and Comprehensive Sexuality Education are essential curricula that need to be fully and effectively implemented, but education is much broader in teaching children social and interpersonal skills and concepts of human rights and gender equality.  Positive discipline approaches replacing corporal punishment in schools is another important step in the right direction. 

Education also has to happen at home with good parenting and role-modeling.  In communities, community leaders and religious institutions have an important educational role in inculcating values and norms for a respectful, equal and non-violent society.  Political leaders set the tone and standard of societal norms and behaviors, including reshaping gender roles in line with universal human rights. Civil society is instrumental in advocacy and public education.  It is encouraging to note that some survivors have become advocates and educators against GBV and DV. 

When the Spotlight Initiative starts implementation after the elections next year, the UN and the EU will work with government and state institutions, civil society, communities and activists to prevent and reduce gender-based and family violence in Guyana and education will be at the core.           

Let us prioritize education as a public good; support it with cooperation, partnerships and funding; and recognize that leaving no one behind starts with education.

I thank UNESCO for their contributions to the development of education, science and culture in Guyana.  I look forward to more innovations and contributions in 2020 and the Decade of Actions for SDGs. 

Speech by
Mikiko Tanaka
Resident Coordinator
Mikiko Tanaka, UN Resident Coordinator
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization