The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises that gender equality and women’s empowerment are critical for achieving our goals. In this series of three blogs marking the launch of the new 2016 GEM Report Gender Review, we look at education and gender in relation to three central pillars in the new 2030 Agenda in turn: work and economic growth (prosperity), leadership and participation (peace) and relationships and well-being ([people). The Review is released to contribute to activities around International Day of the Girl Child 2016
In the first of three blogs, we look at the relationship between education, gender equality and the realm of work and its importance for inclusive economic growth.
A sustainable and fair world is only possible by ensuring that we all have opportunities to work and prosper. Education is key, and ensuring gender equality in and through schooling is an absolutely crucial building block for developing an inclusive labour market.
Diverse and deep-rooted inequalities in the labour market affect both men and women, and leave women particularly disadvantaged. Worldwide, women are less likely than men to find a decent job that is stable and pays enough to escape a life of poverty.
Women still undertake the majority of unpaid work in the home. And, even when women are employed in secure, well-paying jobs, they often earn less than men doing exactly the same job, are less likely than men to be promoted, and are especially less likely to reach the highest levels of management.
GEM Report analysis of data from the World Bank’s Skills Toward Employment and Productivity (STEP) study on the urban populations of 12 low and middle income countries found that working poverty among women is double that of men. Large disparity is also found in many OECD countries, including Austria, Finland, the Republic of Korea and Switzerland, where twice as many women as men work on low pay.
Good quality education and lifelong learning not only equips people with essential skills, which can help them find decent and secure work, but it can also help them become more productive, and this can have a positive effect on their earnings.
Gender parity in education would help fix gender gaps in pay and work.
Achieving gender parity – or equal numbers of boys and girls – in education is an important first step for achieving the equal participation of men and women in decent work and equal pay. In Ghana and Kenya, research suggests that equalizing educational attainment would reduce gender disparity in informal employment by 50% and 35% respectively.
Non-formal education tailored to learner needs can also provide essential skills to young adults who have been failed by low quality education systems. Women, in particular, can benefit from such programmes, as they account for almost two thirds of the 758 million adults globally who lack literacy skills.
But education cannot work alone to address gender inequality in work and employment
There is no quick fix to addressing gender inequalities in the workplace, even where education is concerned. While parity in education might mean women’s greater access to formal employment, we must also ask questions about the many barriers that can still affect the type, quality and security of that work for women and men. Here are a few key solutions that the Gender Review highlights for working equality into employment:
- Mentorships and scholarships can help address occupational segregation, to break the trends of men and women working in different kinds of jobs and occupational sectors. Some of this disparity can be linked to people’s basic education experience and the subjects they choose to study through school and at higher levels of education, which are still frequently marked by strong gender differences. On average, more women study education than engineering and computer science, for example. In OECD countries, only 14% of young women entering higher education in 2012 chose science-related fields of study, compared with 39% of young men.
- Pedagogy, classroom environment and curricula content can help address stereotyped gender roles and expectations in school and at home. These roles and expectations also partly explain education choices and subsequent occupational segregation. Looking at classroom environment and educational content can impact on young men and women’s subject choices, their education achievements, their aspirations and their future life choices. Programme and policy interventions are also needed, including those that help equalize women’s status at work.
- Paid maternity legislation needs to be adopted and enforced to empower women. Empowering women also requires matching education reforms with better access to public sector jobs or laws ensuring that private employers provide decent work. The ILO recommends maternity protection, along with public spending on work–family measures, which help advance women’s opportunities for good quality work and promote men’s involvement in day-to-day childcare. Yet at the moment, only about 28% of employed women worldwide receive cash maternity benefits.
- Measures that promote the sharing of parental responsibilities can help challenge gendered norms around work and caregiving and the different valuations placed on paid and unpaid work. These gendered norms typically position men as breadwinners and women as homemakers/caregivers and perpetuate the misperception that men are not suited to caring work. Parental leave schemes can promote a more equitable division of child care which can have significant benefits for family welfare. Sharing family responsibilities can also increase gender equality in the labour force by helping mothers enter or re-enter paid employment or complete their schooling, which in turn can help empower women economically.