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Christos Stylianides: Empowering girls through education in emergencies

European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid ans Civil Protection Christos Stylianides emphasises the importance to ensure girls have access to education in emergency situations.

In many parts of the world, girls are still denied their fundamental right to education. When a conflict or a natural disaster strikes, the exclusion is even higher, with girls two-and-a-half times more likely to be out of school than boys.

This is unacceptable and it's why as a European commissioner, boosting support for education in emergencies is a top priority.

During my field visits I have witnessed firsthand how girls encounter greater dangers just because of their gender. This is in addition to the common challenges that children face in continuing education during emergencies, such as the lack of economic resources or the limited capacity of schools.

By educating the girls of today we are educating the women of tomorrow.

In a family with several children and economic constraints, parents can favor boys' attendance to school over girls' attendance. This can be the result of high levels of gender-based violence, exacerbated during emergencies. Many parents prefer their daughters to stay at home to shield them from the violence or sexual abuse they risk on their way to school.

However, all children, regardless of their gender, need education for a successful development and for their psychological well-being.

The EU is increasingly supporting safe access to quality education in situations of emergency through humanitarian projects carried out by our partner organizations. Among our many partners worldwide, this includes Plan International, which will carry out projects in 2016 in Central African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

We must focus on improving access to quality education and psychosocial support for pre-school, primary and secondary girls and boys. In addition, we must rehabilitate and build schools and learning spaces, distribute school materials and uniforms, arrange transportation to educational centers for those in need and conduct trainings for teaching staff to improve the quality of the education delivered.

In order to be effective, the EU uses a “Gender-Age Marker” as a quality tool to ensure that the particular needs and vulnerabilities of girls — and also boys — are taken fully into account throughout the EU-funded projects.

Commissioner Stylianides visits a class comprised of young women at the Daratoo Learning Center in Iraq Credit: Gailan Haji / EU

This year, the EU has significantly stepped up its funding for education in emergencies — from 11 million euros ($12.5 million) in 2015 to over 52 million euros this year. By the end of 2016, EU humanitarian aid will have enabled access to education for over 3.8 million girls and boys living in emergencies in 46 countries around the world.

In Pakistan, for instance, the EU has funded a UNICEF project to ensure access to education for 4,000 children, including almost 1,900 girls, who were able to attend school for the first time in their lives. In Somalia, the EU is supporting INTERSOS to empower girls' education and raise awareness among parents and communities, thus fostering stronger commitment to keep girls in school longer.

An educated girl is better protected against gender-based risks

In situations of emergencies, enabling access to education is crucial. Education provides girls and boys with the necessary skills and tools to cope under or break the cycle of violence and contribute to their communities' recovery. In particular, girls need education to take control of their own lives. An educated girl is better protected against gender-based risks, such as early marriage and pregnancy, abuse and exploitation. But also better prepared to be able to make the right choices for herself and her society.

By educating the girls of today we are educating the women of tomorrow. In schools, they can have access to key vital messages that can be passed onto future generations. For instance, by raising awareness about the importance of having a nutritious meal, we are indirectly improving the health and nutrition of their future descendants.

I have seen with my own eyes the countless benefits of education in emergencies. That is why it is one of my top priorities. Girls and boys count on us, humanitarian donors and workers, to make education in emergencies possible.

The EU has quadrupled our support for 2016. And I will continue working with our partners to make education in emergencies our common top priority. I am determined to continue our support and be the strongest advocate of the right to an education for children in emergency situations. For as long as it takes.


This op-ed was first published on Devex, as part of Plan International EU Office's #GirlsVoices initiative.