“Engaging the media towards an ethical and social agenda” was the aim of the second Arab Media Forum, concluded in Dubai Thursday, according to Anis Salem of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Middle East and North Africa office.
The three-day event, which sought to encourage the role of the media in advancing children’s rights in the region, was coordinated by UNICEF in partnership with the World Food Programme, UNESCO, the Dubai Press Club, Dubai Aid and Humanitarian City and the Arab Institute for Human Rights, along with other institutions.
Organisers promoted the forum as part of an initiative focusing on specific topics relating to Arab children. The event was a follow-up to the first media forum on children’s rights, also held in Dubai in December 2004. That event was attended by more than 50 media experts representing 13 Arab countries.
This week’s forum, attended by some 70 representatives of media and social organisations, concentrated on the creation of a regional network of UN, social and media organisations devoted to highlighting issues of gender, education and children's rights. Media representatives from several countries committed themselves to follow up with reports, interviews and media campaigns, especially on women’s and girls’ education.
The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (GEI), a UNICEF-led project launched in 2000, works to ensure that boys and girls have equal access to all levels of education. This is in keeping with the ambitions of the UN Millennium Development Goals, which envision the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015.
According to the GEI, the achievement of gender parity in education is critical if women are to engage fully in society and the global economy. As with other regions, however, girls’ education in the Arab world is hampered by poverty, conflict, discrimination and geography.
As secondary enrolment rates demonstrate, many girls who do attend school are usually forced to drop out due to strict gender roles and early marriage. Daughters are also often kept at home to perform household duties and care for younger siblings.
In Yemen, for example, more than half of the girls in the country are destined for illiteracy, according to GEI data. As many families will not allow daughters to attend classes taught by men, UNICEF has focused on training female teachers, and, with the help of the World Bank, providing textbooks and school supplies.
In the past 15 years, the Middle East has made significant strides in terms of gender equality in school enrolment, with the number of girls enrolled in school (per 100 boys) rising from 83 in 1990/01 to 89 in 2001/02.
Nevertheless, as UNICEF officials said at the forum, “great challenges remain”, with countless girls still being excluded from basic education.