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Global Education Can Be Julie Bishop’s Legacy As Foreign Minister

She may soon have one of the UN's most prestigious podiums at her disposal to affirm Australia's commitment to helping with the education crisis.

17/08/2017 12:53 PM AEST | Updated 17/08/2017 2:55 PM AEST
Eduardo Munoz / Reuters
"There is no question that standing up for one of the most basic of human rights -- education for all -- is both the right and sensible thing to do."

One of Julie Bishop's most prized projects as Foreign Minister has been Australia's bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council -- a seat we are now all but certain to win following France's withdrawal from the race last month.

In October the UN General Assembly will elect new member states to the world's peak human rights body for the 2018 to 2020 term. If successful -- as is now likely to be the case -- that moment will surely go down as one of the highlights of Bishop's tenure as Foreign Minister, quite rightly earning her the respect of colleagues both domestically and abroad.

But winning the campaign would have been the easy part. The real question is whether Australia would use its seat to promote and deliver concrete results for some of the world's most remote, vulnerable and socially marginalised people.

One area that has long been overlooked by the international community, and where Australia can make a real difference, is education.

Despite the long held recognition that access to education is a basic human right, it is scandalous that in 2017 some 264 million children and youth remain out of school.

To those who argue that Julie Bishop's time would be better spent looking after Australia's interest overseas, make no mistake, this is a global education crisis that unless resolved will have ramifications for us all.

Girls are particularly affected. In some communities, girls often have to remain at home when they first begin to menstruate because the school they go to lacks something as basic as a toilet. In other communities, early forced marriage, exacerbated in some countries by legal loopholes, keep girls out of school.

Then of course there is that insidious, brutal strain of extremism -- held in common by groups such as the Taliban and Nigeria's Boko Haram -- who believe girls have no place in the classroom. Many of us are familiar with the story of the world's youngest Nobel Peace Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for simply standing up for her right to education.

Finally, while in Australia we quite rightly debate the quality of our education system and how it can be improved, some 75 million children do not even have a school to go to at all due to conflict or other humanitarian emergencies.

Fortunately, there are signs that the world is finally starting to wake up to this crisis. Meeting in Hamburg last month, the G20 -- for the first time -- endorsed recommendations to increase funding for key initiatives like the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which is seeking to raise $3.1 billion to support children to receive an education across the 89 countries home to 78 percent of the world's out-of-school population.

Additionally, world renowned artists like Rihanna have started to speak out. Following a trip she took with us earlier this year to Malawi, Rihanna recently took to Twitter to call on key world leaders to lift their support for the GPE.

But, much more support is needed and this is where I believe Australia has a role to play. To raise $3.1 billion for the GPE will require major G20 countries to increase their contribution by at least 30 percent.

With the heightened global profile afforded by Australia's new found position on the Human Rights Council, Julie Bishop has the ability to set a strong example for other countries to follow by announcing an increased commitment herself to the GPE fund.

And, what better time to do this than when she arrives in New York next month for the opening of the UN General Assembly. A moment when diplomats from other countries will be watching closely to see if Australia is willing to back up its words with action.

That is why we have invited Julie Bishop to address this year's Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. Taking place the same week as the UN General Assembly, this Festival will see 60,000 people come together alongside well known artists, such as Stevie Wonder, and represents the perfect platform to remind the global community to live up to their obligations to ensure everyone's basic education needs are met.

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To those who argue that Julie Bishop's time would be better spent looking after Australia's interest overseas, make no mistake, this is a global education crisis that unless resolved will have ramifications for us all.

As former British Prime Minister and now UN Special Envoy for Education, Gordon Brown, recently noted, the education crisis runs the risk of triggering a worldwide skills shortage that could cost the global community US $1.8 trillion by 2050. Given that Australia's own economic growth model depends on overseas exports, assisting poorer economies to develop and thrive is in our interests.

Investing in education can also play a key role in helping to address the different contexts where young people find themselves susceptible to movements promoting violent extremism. Studies by UNESCO show that when learners, especially girls and women, are equipped with the proper education and skills, they have an ability to take action against violent extremism.

There is no question that standing up for one of the most basic of human rights -- education for all -- is both the right andsensible thing to do. Julie Bishop is soon to very likely have one of the UN's most prestigious podiums at her disposal to do just that. For the sake of the 264 million children and youth out of school, I hope we do not waste the opportunity.

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