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Human Rights & Education | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Women, Human Rights & Education

What is the Human Right to Education?

Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to education, training and information, and to other fundamental human rights dependent upon realization of the human right to education. Equality of access to all levels of education is crucial to empowering women and girls to participate in economic, social and political life of their societies. Education unlocks a womanıs potential, and is accompanied by improvements in health, nutrition, and well-being of women and their families.

Despite widespread agreement that all people have the fundamental human right to education, 100 million children, at least 60% of them girls, do not have access to primary education. 960 million adults in the world are illiterate, and more than two-thirds of them are women. Women and girls continue to face discrimination at all levels of education, a fact which poses tremendous obstacles to their advancement.

The Human Rights at Issue

Human rights relating to education are set out in basic human rights treaties and include:

  • The human right to free and compulsory elementary education and to readily available forms of secondary and higher education.

  • The human right to freedom from discrimination based on sex or any other status in all areas and levels of education, including access to scholarships and fellowships, and to equal access to career development, continuing education and vocational training.

  • The human right to information about health, nutrition, reproduction and family planning.

The human right to education is inextricably linked to other fundamental human rights -- rights that are universal, indivisible, interconnected and interdependent including:

  • The human right to equality between men and women and to equal partnership in the family and society. Realization of this human rights depends on eliminating gender-based stereotypes in education which deny women opportunities for full and equal partnership.

  • The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.

  • The human right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.

  • The human right to an adequate standard of living.

  • The human right to participate in shaping decisions and policies affecting one's community, at the local, national and international levels.


Human Rights & Education | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Education:

What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Education?

Includes excerpts from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention Against Discrimination in Education.

"States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education ... to ensure ... the same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for access to studies ... in educational establishments of all categories...; this equality shall be ensured in preschool, general, technical, professional and higher technical education,... vocational training. Access to the same curricula, ... teaching staff...; The elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of man and women at all levels and in all forms of education...; the same opportunities to benefit from scholarships...; continuing education, including adult and functional literacy programmes.... Access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas ... and ... ensure ... the right ... to obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal, including that relating to functional literacy ...."
-- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 10 and 14

"Everyone has the right to education. [Elementary] education shall be free... compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.... Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights.... "
-- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26

"Everyone has the right to education. [Elementary] education shall be free... compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.... Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights...."
-- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26

"States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination ... and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law ... in the enjoyment of ... the right to education and training...."
-- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5

"States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and ... shall ... make primary education compulsory and available free to all; ... make [secondary education] available and accessible to every child...; make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity...; make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children; take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.... States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: ... the development of the childıs personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential...."
-- Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 28 and 29

"The States Parties ... undertake ... to ... discontinue any ... practices which involve discrimination in education....; to ... develop ... a national policy which ... will ...... promote equality of opportunity and of treatment in ... education and in particular:...To make primary education free and compulsory; make secondary education ... available and accessible to all; make higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity; assure compliance by all with the obligation to attend school prescribed by law...; To encourage and intensify ... the education of persons who have not received any primary education or who have not completed the entire primary education.... "
-- Convention Against Discrimination in Education, Articles 3 and 4


Human Rights & Education | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Education:

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Education?

Includes commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, and excerpts from the World Declaration on Education for All, and the Amman Affirmation.

"We are determined to ... Promote people-centred development ... through the provision of basic education, lifelong education, literacy and training ... for girls and women.... Ensure equal access to and equal treatment of women and men in education ... and enhance womenıs sexual and reproductive health as well as education."
-- Beijing Declaration, paras. 27 and 30

"Education is a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace.... Actions...: ... Advance the goal of equal access to education by taking measures to eliminate discrimination in education at all levels on the basis of gender, race, ... or any other form of discrimination .... [C]lose the gender gap in primary and secondary school education by the year 2005; provide universal primary education in all countries before the year 2015.... Reduce the female illiteracy rate.... [Ensure] that women have equal access to career development, training.... Improve ... quality of education and ... equal ... access ... to ensure that women of all ages can acquire the knowledge, capacities, ... skills ... needed to develop and to participate fully ... in the process of ... development...."
--Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 69, 80, 81, and 82

"Education ... should be recognized as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential.... Governments should take active steps to ... eliminate illiteracy ... and to expand the enrolment of women ... in educational institutions, to promote the goal of universal access to primary and secondary education...."
--Agenda 21, Chapter 36, para. 3; Chapter 3, para. 2;Chapter 24, para. 3

"We will ... Establish policies ... that enhance the equality of status, welfare and opportunity of the girl child, especially in regard to ... literacy and education.... We commit ourselves to ... universal and equitable access to quality education ... making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social conditions and without distinction as to race, ... gender.... We will: Formulate ... strategies for the eradication of illiteracy and universalization of ... early childhood education, primary education and education for the illiterate...; Emphasize lifelong learning by seeking to improve the quality of education to ensure that people of all ages are provided with useful knowledge, ... skills ... required to develop their full capacities in health and dignity...."
-- Copenhagen Declaration, Commitments 5 and 6

"We ... commit ourselves to ... universal and equal access to quality education,... making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social and economic conditions ... without distinction as to race ... gender.... Quality education for all [is] fundamental to ensuring that people of all ages are able to develop their full capacities.... We ... commit ourselves to ... Promoting ... appropriate facilities for ... education, combating ... discriminatory and ... exclusionary ... practices, and ... respecting the rights of all, especially of women, children...."
-- Habitat Agenda, paras. 2.36 and 3.43

"... Education is a fundamental right for all people, women and men, of all ages, throughout the world.... Every person -- child, youth and adult -- shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs.... to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity.... to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions.... Basic education should be provided to all children, youth and adults.... The most urgent priority is to ensure access to, and improve the quality of, education for girls and women, and to remove every obstacle that hampers their active participation. All gender stereotyping in education should be eliminated."
--World Declaration on Education for All, Preamble and Articles 1 and 3

"Education is empowerment. It is the key to establishing and reinforcing democracy, to development which is both sustainable and humane and to peace founded upon mutual respect and social justice. Indeed, in a world in which creativity and knowledge play an ever greater role, the right to education is nothing less than the right to participate in the life of the modern world.... The priority of priorities must ... be the education of women and girls.... There can be no enduring success in basic education until the gender gap is closed."
--Amman Affirmation, 1996


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org