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Meet Secretary of State, André Vallini: France's champion for Girl's Education

Flickr: Atzin Mexico

On the 5th of July, the French Secretary of State André Vallini addressed the French Parliament  about the need to achieve gender equality and, in particular, education. He highlights this as one of the key ways to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and work towards eradicating poverty. As Vallini says, poverty is at the heart of inequality, and it’s an ethical challenge.

Vallini cautions that while access to reproductive rights ensures growth in the financial sector, inequality is still increasing. So unless we tackle the gender gap, the 2030 SDGs will be remembered as empty words.

“The world’s new 'giants' like India and China have not distributed their gains in an equitable way," Vallini said. "Poverty affects girls and women first, and this is happening in France as well. This is because social inequality is rooted in social and cultural sexism and this phenomenon still exists worldwide."

Image: Secretary of State and Secretary General of La Francophonie and gender equality champion, Andre Vallini Image: www.francebleu.fr

According to Vallini, the first step towards rectifying this issue is education. Public opinion in favour of girls’ education has been mobilised over the course of a few years after the attack on Malala Yousafzai and the abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, putting girls’ education to the forefront of the global political agenda.

Vallini correctly states that everything stems from education. Helping women become informed citizens contributes to society as a whole. Currently, girls make up for over half of children without access to education worldwide. The Malala Fund reported that over 60 million girls are out of school.

Read more: Educating Girls is the Key to Ending Poverty

He also recognizes that education doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In fact, it remains one of the most undervalued and underfunded sectors of humanitarian aid. In France, 12 billion euros in aid money over three years go toward AIDS. However, only 2 billion euros over 5 years goes toward education. Vallini stresses that money should not be pulled from health investments, but instead more money should be mustered for education since it is to essential.

He also suggests that women’s emancipation can also be achieved through sexual education and reproductive rights. Indeed, being able to take charge of your own body is the first step towards lifting yourself out of poverty. Globally, the WHO reports that 16 million adolescent pregnancies happen each year. This statistic is unacceptable. When women are burdened by early pregnancies, they are less likely to achieve independence and stability.

Finally, Vallini mentions the necessity of promoting gender equality on the international stage to help change mentalities and perceptions.  He noted that in some countries father figures are still reluctant to send their daughters to school because they are afraid of the consequences of them finding out their rights.

This is where France’s “Gender and Development Strategy” of 2013 comes in. This strategy puts girls and education at the heart of development, emphasising the mutual growth girls’ education has on every development sector.

Vallini’s leadership on girls’ education and gender equality and his open acknowledgement that the battle for girls everywhere can only be won together, is a step in the right direction.

Society cannot function at its fullest with half of its population left behind. As the former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan once said, it is like a bird trying to fly by using only one of its wings. This is why we’re asking Global Citizens to call on countries, like France, to step up and become global leaders on education and girls’ education in particular. Take action today to call on Secretary of State Vallini to follow through on his sentiments today.