Today we are celebrating International Day of the Girl Child and are launching the Gender Summary from the GMR 2015. It shows, yet again, the extent to which girls face the greatest challenges in accessing basic education. The theme of the Day is the ‘Power of the Adolescent Girl’. It is an occasion to remember that education is the linchpin for forging communities of empowered and enabled women. Our Report serves to remind us of the work still to be done to ensure that every girl gets a chance to reap education’s rewards.
Many may have forgotten that gender parity in education was actually due to be achieved in 2005. Ten years later, and the goal is far from being met. Results show that by 2015 fewer than half of countries will have achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary education. No country in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to achieve parity at both levels by 2015.
Although gender parity has not been met, our Report, co-produced with UNGEI, shows that progress towards it has been one of the biggest education success stories since 2000. There are 52 million fewer girls out of school now as compared to then. The number of countries that have achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary education has increased from 36 to 62. Governments among this group should be congratulated for their efforts.
But achieving gender parity on its own is not sufficient. Indeed we will never achieve gender parity unless we can achieve the other half of the EFA gender goal: gender equality. Difficulties with defining and measuring gender equality have hampered monitoring efforts and held back progress. It is therefore of huge importance that the issue has been assigned its own SDG goal in the new agenda. The UNGEI initiative to design a monitoring framework for the issue will be vital to its success.
At a launch event for our Report today in UNICEF’s offices, we will discuss the complex nature of gender and education. There, we will also show our new interactive online tool, bringing to the fore the gender gaps that still exist in children’s access and participation in quality schooling depending on which region they are from, their wealth, and where exactly they live. Those not based in New York will be able to watch the event online. (10am EST)
Those at the event will debate how to change the fact that the greatest challenge faced by girls is getting into primary school in the first place. Indeed, as UIS showed in our latest joint paper, among all out-of-school children, almost half of girls will never set foot in a classroom, equivalent to 15 million girls, compared with just over a third of boys.
At secondary level, the picture varies wildly by region. In sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, girls continue to be more disadvantaged in secondary enrolment. In Latin America and the Caribbean, by contrast, fewer boys than girls are enrolled in the majority of countries. However, the most extreme cases of disparity are still at girls’ expense. In 2012, 13 countries had fewer than 80 girls enrolled in secondary education for every 100 boys. In Angola, the situation has actually worsened, from 76 girls per 100 boys in 1999 to 65 in 2012. In Central African Republic and Chad, both recently affected by conflict, approximately half as many girls as boys were enrolled in secondary school in 2012.
Our new education goal includes upper secondary too. Amongst young people enrolled at this level, boys are more likely than girls to drop out, with barely any change since 2000. This affects developed countries too: in OECD countries, 73% of girls compared with only 63% of boys complete upper secondary education.
As the GMR 2013/4 emphasized, gaining access to school means little if children are not learning. And a literate population is crucial for a more sustainable future across many sectors. Our Report does show that gender gaps in youth literacy are narrowing. However, fewer than seven out of every ten young women in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to have basic literacy skills by 2015. The lack of progress in literacy among adult women is particularly stark: two-thirds of adults who lack basic literacy skills are women, a proportion unchanged since 2000. Shockingly, half of adult women in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa cannot read or write.
Remaining barriers to gender equality, meanwhile, cannot be easily measured, but include various forms of social norms and practices. Child marriage remains a persistent barrier to girls’ education. In 2012, almost one in five women married were between 15 and 19 years of age. Many others, including child labour, and early pregnancy must also be put in the spotlight. And in schools, gender-based violence – one of the worst manifestations of gender discrimination -not only affects children’s wellbeing, but holds back education attainment.
The key takeaway from this Report is that we have a large amount of unfinished business. We have just signed up to an even more ambitious vision for education and gender equality by 2030, yet, on current trends, in sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest girls will achieve universal primary completion twenty years after the poorest boys. Both are scheduled to complete long after 2030. Child marriage and discrimination are far from being wiped out. We must find new energy to address them and ensure that no-one is left behind. And we must not be late again.