Comment: Empowering girls through education is best achieved by the member states

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Jana Žitňanská says that EU governments should have responsibility for gender strategies so they can find the models that work best for them.

Marking a one year's anniversary in the European parliament I have come to realize that all too often we try to focus on issues that are largely distant to Europe's citizens.

This is not because we do not have the best intentions in mind, but mostly because we are trying to reach too far and do not respect the principle that some policies should be best left to the member states and communities to decide.

The topic of girls' empowerment lies at the top of parliament's women's rights and gender equality committee priorities and we will be discussing Liliana Rodrigues' report in the coming days and weeks.

When I think about the girls and empowerment I first and foremost think about the girls who do not have the chance to think about school materials or formal and informal curricula - simply because they have none or cannot even access the education they are entitled to.

We have marginalised communities across Europe that lack basic amenities such as running water, that lack proper housing and access to different kinds of services including quality education. The school attendance of marginalised Roma in eastern European countries falls steeply after the age of 12 or 13.

Across Europe, only 15 per cent of Roma have a secondary education. Girls rarely study beyond primary school. A Bulgarian community leader has explained this as due to a lack of role models in a recent article in The Economist.

In other news, Slovak and Czech governments have committed themselves to ending discrimination of Roma pupils in their education systems. They have both failed to do so and are facing proceedings by the European commission over their treatment of Roma school boys and girls.

There is a practice of putting children into segregated classes or simply refusing them the right to quality mainstream education and instead directing them into special schools. We also have thousands of parents whose attempts to enter their children into education are rejected because schools do not want or cannot afford appropriate and accessible environments or quality education for children with disabilities.

These are the true and very often physical barriers that we face when we talk about educating our girls. Certainly, the discussion about girls and their potential and empowerment varies from country to country.

We have member states with segregated schools and we have member states where the discussion on girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is vibrant, necessary and genuine.

This is also reason why I think it is best to leave gender strategies and supervision from gender bodies on member states so that they can discover a model which suits them best. Personally, here in parliament, I would prefer to have a conversation on the topic I briefly outlined in this article - persistent discrimination and social marginalisation.

There are girls in the EU who are not getting any education at all and these girls should come first and be empowered.

About the author

Jana Žitňanská is parliament's European Conservatives and Reformists group shadow rapporteur on empowering girls through education in the EU

SOURCE: The Parliament Magazine, 18/06/2015,