The new Gender GEM Report released today at the G7 France – UNESCO International Conference shows that equal numbers of boys and girls are still not enrolled in a third of countries in primary, half in lower secondary, and three out of four in upper secondary education. You can access our key messages here.
The new Report, “Building bridges for gender equality” celebrates progress, which means that, on average, globally there is an equal number of boys to girls in school. But it also shows where we must focus our attention: sub-Saharan Africa is far below parity in all education levels, for instance, and the Arab States now sit in last place on gender parity in primary education, possibly as a result of conflict.
While there has been progress in gender parity in some education levels, the main message from this Report is that we need to look more broadly at gender inequalities affecting education. We recommend that countries start to view gender equality in education through the lens of a richer monitoring framework. Selected statistics elaborating on this framework appear in this year’s Gender Report for the first time. Below we outline a few key areas that can help stamp out challenges and achieve a fairer future for all.
Firstly, we will not achieve gender equality in education unless we challenge harmful social norms about women’s role in society.
Over a quarter of people still think that it is more important for a boy to go to university than a girl. And girls are twice as likely to be involved in child domestic work than boys. We have to empower girls and women, educate boys and men and identify new role models if we are to successfully challenge the status quo.
In addition to social norms and values, institutions can include or exclude women as regards resources and activities, and can protect them from or expose them to discriminatory practices. Such influences, present at work or in family, do impact on opportunities in education. They mean that technical and vocational programmes remain a male bastion, for instance. Just a quarter of those enrolled in engineering and in information and communications technology programmes are women.
Secondly, as with anything, we will only get out of education what we put in. Why is it that the teaching profession is frequently female but men are in charge? In 28 mostly high-income countries, for instance, 70% of lower secondary school teachers, but only 53% of head teachers, are female.
Curricula and textbooks, but also teacher training have to be assessed to make sure they are not gender blind. Countries must make sure they are building education systems with gender equality in mind. This includes addressing school-related gender-based violence in schools, providing comprehensive sexuality education – a key ingredient for fostering gender equal attitudes as our latest policy paper showed – and making sure sanitation facilities are adequate. Only half of schools in 2016 had access to handwashing facilities with soap and water.
Thirdly, like it or not, change has to also come from the top. Laws are needed to change the status quo: countries must ban child marriage and let pregnant girls go to school. 117 countries and territories still allow a girl to marry, for instance, and four countries in sub-Saharan Africa enforce a total ban against girls returning to school after pregnancy.
Fourthly, countries must make sure their plans match their commitments to tackling education inequality. Our analysis of the 20 countries with the largest gender gaps in education showed that the most popular policy being implemented to tackle gender inequality was cash and in-kind transfers, featuring in three out of four plans. Curriculum and textbook reform, girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes, and safe access to schools, were the least common, however, appearing in only a fifth of countries’ plans.
Countries with high levels of gender disparity should not view their education sector plans as a box-ticking exercise to satisfy donor demands so as to gain access to aid resources. They need to embrace gender-responsive education sector planning as an exercise that goes to the heart of their commitment to ensure inclusive, equitable, high-quality education for all by 2030.
Lastly, countries should monitor their progress to gender equality in education along the lines of the framework suggested in our Report. Disparity in attainment and achievement, especially when disaggregated further by characteristics such as poverty and location, gives a good first impression of current status and past trends but is not sufficient to direct action. Such improved monitoring should guide gender analyses in education plans and budgets.