Yesterday we held a Paris launch for our new report: Gender and EFA 2000-2015: Achievements and challenges. It was well attended by Ministers of Education from Niger, Paraguay, Morocco and Sweden, by the US Ambassador to UNESCO and the Director General, Irina Bokova.
The speech by the Minister of Education and Culture in Paraguay, Ms Marta Fuente, took the spotlight away from a pure focus on girls as so often happens in education discussions, and drew the audience’s attention to the plight of boys. Below we explore the extent of the disadvantages that boys face in the country, and policies the Ministry is putting in place to close the gender gap.
Our Report tells us that Paraguay has achieved equal numbers of girls to boys – parity – in pre-primary education and in youth and adult literacy. There is also almost parity in enrolment in primary education, with 96 girls enrolled for every 100 boys. However, once in school, girls are more likely than boys to stay there longer: in 2011, 86% reached the last grade of primary school compared with 82% of boys. Girls also outperform boys in reading, while gender gaps are narrowing in mathematics.
At the secondary level, as is found across many Latin American and Caribbean countries, boys are enrolling less than girls and, as found elsewhere, the disparities get worse the further up the education system you look. Only 91 boys were enrolled per 100 girls in upper secondary education in Paraguay, for instance, something that is worsening very slowly over time. In tertiary education, only 71 men were enrolled per 100 women.
Such overrepresentation of women does not necessary tell whether they enjoy equal opportunities when it comes to what subjects they study, of course. As shown in our Report, even in countries where more women than men are enrolled in higher education, like in Paraguay, they tend to be less represented in fields like science, engineering, manufacturing and construction. This underrepresentation of women in scientific and technical fields exacerbates gender gaps in income, as workers in these fields tend to earn significantly more than their counterparts in other fields.
In addition, more women enrolled does not necessarily result in gender equality in society. As the Paraguayan Minister reminded us today, the country has one of the lowest percentages of women in Congress in the region.
Finally, in Paraguay, women account for the great majority of the teaching staff. They make up 89% of teachers in pre-primary education, 71% in primary, 63% in lower secondary and 61% in upper secondary education. While having a large proportion of female teachers can indicate progress towards gender equality, in a context where boys are clearly disengaging from school and dropping out, countries may consider the benefit of recruiting male role models in secondary level classrooms.
The Minister of Education’s presentation about these issues and how they are being addressed was very insightful therefore. Our Report recommends separate policy solutions depending on the context, and on whether it is boys or girls at a disadvantage. Paraguay is clearly following this model in the hope of closing gender gaps soon.
The Minister explained that Paraguay is a particular case in the region: it is a country with 20 indigenous tribal groups, and is the only country in Latin America where an indigenous language (Guaraní) has been officially recognized alongside Spanish. It has a very young population: 58% of the population is under 30 years old, and 40% is under 19 years old.
During the 1990s when Paraguay embarked on a major educational reform, 1 million boys and girls gained access to school for the first time. And yet, there still remain gender gaps, particularly in rural areas and among indigenous populations that now need to be addressed.
Some of the policies the country is now implementing include aiming to overcome stereotypes which are the root causes of gender imbalances in the classroom. This will include looking at how well cultural and gender aspects are included in teacher training. As the Minister put it, “Educators are also victims of stereotypes”. And it will include enhancing policies that focus on working with adults and teachers so that they can teach coexistence to their children.
The Minister mentioned the provision of compensatory policies and second-chance education opportunities to help the boys who are dropping out of school at the secondary level. She also noted, lastly, how cultural dialogue is being promoted on the need for gender equality throughout the education system.
“You must remember the context when designing policies related to gender”, the Minister told the audience. Her point is fully aligned with a phrase put succinctly by the Director General that “our objective is not just numerical parity for girls & boys but for equality in all society.” We will never find the gender balance we want in classrooms if we do not address their root causes.