UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has warned that some 16 million girls between ages six and 11 will never get the chance to learn to read or write in primary school, compared to about eight million boys if current trends continue.

A Unesco report, released in the run-up to International Women’s Day to be held on March 8, says that girls are still the first to be denied the right to education despite all the efforts and progress made over the past 20 years.

“We will never achieve any of the sustainable development goals without overcoming discrimination and poverty that stunt the lives of girls and women from one generation to the next,” Unesco Director General Irina Bokova said in a press release.

“We must work at all levels, from grassroots to global leaders, to put equity and inclusion at the heart of every policy so that all girls, whatever their circumstances, go to school, stay in school and become empowered citizens,” she added.

Gender disparities remain highest in the Arab states, sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia. Across sub-Saharan Africa, 9.5 million girls will never set foot in a classroom compared to five million boys.

In total, more than 30 million children aged six to 11 are out of school across the region. Some will start at a later age, but many more will remain entirely excluded.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2016

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