Gender equality in education Introduction The great value of gender equality in education is already recognized by policy makers
Gender equality in education
The great value of gender equality in education is already recognized by policy makers. The SDGs emphasize the responsibilities of all states in achieving inclusive and quality education (SDG goal 4) and gender equality (SDG goal 5). Its commitment to “leave no one behind” demonstrates the idea that boys and girls, men and women should advantage equally from development.
“The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities. Women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels” (United Nations, 2015:6).
The aim of this paper is to assess gender equality in education by analyzing challenges and barriers girls face in enrolling in school at different levels.
The first part of the paper provides an overview of the current situation regarding gender parity in education focusing on quality and completion, constructing a framework on which later analysis will be build. The second part of the paper will analyze the main gendered barriers that girls in developing countries face in educational processes and then cover the concluding remarks.
According to Amartya Sen’s capability approach, gender equality and education is about equal numbers of boys and girls in school, equivalent levels of education and equitable gender relations and social practice in schools (Unterhalter, E. 2007:87-107).
The current situation regarding gender and educational attainment is two-folded: schooling and learning. The 2018 World Development Report on education by the World Bank argues that over the last 50 years, schooling has expanded universally and most children have access to basic education. According to WDR the share of girls enrolled in basic education reached a historic high. In primary and secondary schools in the developing world, the ratio of girls to boys jumped from 0.84 to 0.96 between 1991 and 2007. However, the world is a still long way from ensuring that all children are enrolled in schools. 62 million girls between the ages of 6 and 15 years are still out of school, with the highest concentrations in West and South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (WDR 2018: 58-60).
Enrolment doesn’t guarantee the completion. Many girls start primary schools, but According to data for 2016 from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, nine in ten girls (89.3 percent) complete their primary education, but only three in four (77.1 percent) complete their lower secondary education. In low income countries, the situation is much worse. Less than two thirds of girls (65.0 percent) complete their primary education, and only one in three (34.4 percent) completes lower secondary school. Statistics shows how hard it is to remain in school when girls are married. Married not in school-23.4%, married and in school only 2.4% (Wodon, Montenegro, Nguyen, Onagoruwa, 2018:7).
However, according to the World Bank schooling is not the same as learning, gender disparities in learning outcomes and skills differ by subject and country. As documented by the UNESCO, girls perform better than boys in reading, but they score lower in math and science. However, Gender disparity in mathematics proficiency is at the expense of girls in primary but not in lower secondary education. Far fewer girls than boys have ICT skills. It is interesting to mention that there is a gender gap in the distribution of programming skills in European countries including Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary: at most, 25 women for every 100 men can program. Few countries achieve parity even in less sophisticated skills: about 75 women for every 100 men could use basic arithmetic formulas in a spreadsheet in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands (UNESCO,2018:18-20).
Challenges, impacts and responsibilities
There is a whole tangle of reasons why the gender gap in education exists. The challenges and barriers faced by girls with low educational attainment vary by countries and cultures. Sida’s brief on Gender and Educational attainment has identified barriers in different system levels, including:
“Individual/household level: poverty; low perceived value of girls’ education; gendered traditional practices; early marriage; early pregnancy; lack of parental support for education; death or illness of parents; and lack of interest in school (which is linked to other factors).
School/community level: high cost of schooling/corruption; lack of a nearby school; school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV); inadequate school facilities for girls/ women; unequal learning environments; and lack of female teachers and other powerful female role models.
Policy/system level: inadequate or weakly enforced policies on access to school for pregnant girls/young mothers; inadequate or weakly enforced legislation on school related gender-based violence; and inadequate or weakly enforced legislation on harmful traditional practices” (Sida, 2017:1).
In terms of impacts, different studies have documented the potential impacts of educational attainment for girls and women in six domains: (1) earnings and standards of living; (2) child marriage and early childbearing; (3) fertility and population growth; (4) health, nutrition, and well-being; (5) agency and decision-making; and (6) social capital and institutions. The results are sobering: the potential economic and social costs of not educating girls are large (Wodon, Montenegro, Nguyen, Onagoruwa, 2018:8).
By analyzing all these obstacles and negative impacts, one might argue that for ensuring gender equality in education there are following responsible actors: States are responsible for developing legislation and policies which will support girls to enroll and remain in schools. However, they have to be implemented and monitoring properly. Moreover, states with schools are in charge of creating safe and inclusive learning environment, where everyone has equal rights and opportunities. Teachers are responsible for using inclusive pedagogical approaches and promoting active discussions on gender issues. Family and community – here gender norms play a crucial role. They are responsible for providing equal support and encouragement regardless of child’s gender. Also, they have to monitor governments, schools and teachers, to protest against stereotypes and ensure that discrimination is not allowed. Donors and CSOs are responsible for creating synergies among the above mentioned actions to tackle the norms and cultural issues that obstruct the achievement of equality in education.
Based on the reported statistics, it has been said that despite the general achievement, girls still face lots of challenges in enrolling and completing school. The potential negative impacts of not educating girls are wide-ranging and effect development outcomes in many ways not only for girls, but also for their families, communities and countries. It is generally claimed that there are various types of interventions and policies to keep girls in school and to improve educational attainment from a gender perspective. They reinforce each other and leading to interdependence between different actors. There is a need to address deep-rooted, longstanding discrimination and inequalities in educational processes. This effort doesn’t just require financial capacities and support policies. Parental choices, community attitudes and cultural perspectives all impact on the gender inequality in education.
Looking at the different studies, it could be noticed that ensuring gender equality in education appears as a key way to achieve sustainable development goals. Educated girls are economic and strategic strength for countries to fulfill their development potential. The fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda is depended on the world’s achievement in creating equal opportunities for girls and boys in education as in other sectors.
Klees, S. (2017). Critical voices on the World Bank and IMF: A critical analysis of the World Bank’s World Development Report on Education. London: Breton Woods Project. Retrieved from:
http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/At-Issue-A-critical-analysis-of-the-WorldBank-World-Development-Report-on-education2.pdfSida. (2017). Gender and Educational attainment. Stockholm, Sida. Retrieved from: https://www.sida.se/English/publications/159022/gender-and-educational-attainment/
Sida. (2017). Gender Equality in the Education Sector-Focusing on the quality of education and completion. Stockholm, Sida. Retrieved from:
United Nations (2015). Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/70/1. Retrieved from:
UNESCO. (2018). The Global Education Monitoring Report 2018, Gender Review. Paris, UNESCO. Retrieved from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002615/261593E.pdf
Unterhalter, E. (2007) Gender Equality, Education, and the Capability Approach. In Walker, M. Unterhalter, E. Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and Social Justice in Education. (pp. 87-107). Palgrave Macmillan US.
Wodon, Q. Montenegro, C. Nguyen, H. Onagoruwa, A. (2018). Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls. Washington, World Bank Group. Retrieved from:
World Bank. (2017). World Development Report 2018: LEARNING to realize education’s promise. Washington, World Bank. Retrieved from: http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2018