Education and gender equality are the key concerns in the new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda adopted at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in September 2015. The Education 2030 Framework for Action, agreed by the global education community in November 2015 to accompany the SDG agenda, also recognizes that gender equality is inextricably linked to the right to education for all, and that achieving gender equality requires an approach that 'ensures that girls and boys, women and men not only gain access to and complete education cycles, but are empowered equally in and through education'. Women, girls, boys and men all need to be given opportunities for active participation in society, for their voices to be heard and their needs met. To facilitate and achieve this, better evidence-based knowledge and understanding of gender issues in and through education are needed. The 'Gender Review of the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report' mainly focuses on the challenges facing girls and women because of the disproportionate overall disadvantage they continue to experience in and beyond education. However, this report also understands that gender disadvantage can be experienced by boys and men, and that gender equality involves males, relationships and power.
The 'Gender Review' begins with a discussion on global and regional trends in achieving parity in education access, participation and completion throughout life, from early childhood development to adult literacy and numeracy skills, and in ensuring that all girls and boys, from all walks of life, can gain access to and complete as many education levels as they wish and achieve high levels of learning. Access to early childhood development programmes, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, can reduce inequality by ensuring that all children begin formal schooling with equal foundations. In 2014, the global pre-primary gross enrolment ratio was 44 per cent. Southern Asia is the region with the lowest participation rate (18 per cent), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (22 per cent) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (29 per cent). Much higher rates are observed in Latin America and the Caribbean (73 per cent), Eastern and South-eastern Asia (76 per cent) and Europe and Northern America (85 per cent). The report indicates that genuine progress was achieved in gender parity in primary and secondary education, alongside rapid education expansion. In 2014, gender parity was achieved globally, on average, in primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education. But the global averages mask continuing disparity in many regions and countries. Analysis shows that, globally, 47 per cent of the 32 million girls who were out of school in 2014 are expected to never go to school, compared with 35 per cent of the 29 million boys.
It is evident that literacy opens doors to better livelihoods, improved health and expanded opportunity. It empowers people, especially women, to take active roles in their communities and build more secure futures for their families. By contrast, illiteracy can entrap households in poverty and diminished opportunity, and undermine national prosperity. In 2014, the global adult illiteracy rate was 15 per cent, equivalent to 758 million adults; 63 per cent of adults who are illiterate are women, with almost no progress since 2000 in reducing this share. Globally, about 9 per cent of youth aged 15 to 24 are unable to read or write a sentence, equivalent to 114 million people.
The second section of the report examines issues related to gender inequality and equality by focusing on three themes - work and economic growth; leadership and participation; and relationships and wellbeing - all of which are linked with education, gender and sustainable development. It also highlights selected gender-related challenges, practices and trends involving education, along with other dimensions of sustainable development that need to be addressed to enable progress in gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
The report concludes with ways forward: what action is implied by evidence and data for achieving more gender-equal societies and how progress towards such societies is to be measured. Education for gender equality must be education of good quality that develops the knowledge and skills of all children, including the most marginalized. Indicators therefore are required in several domains: a) systematic monitoring of gender norms, values and attitudes is needed, as well as b) improved access to educational opportunities. Also crucial is c) the promotion of gender equality by institutions outside the education system, through d) laws and policies in education systems, e) targeted resource distribution and f) better teaching and learning practices.
The writer is an independent researcher.
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