The New Standard = All Girls Learning and Achieving

April 30, 2013
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This blog post originally appeared in the Education for All Blog of the Global Partnership for Education on 30 April 2013.

A call to action to promote gender equality in education
This is a joint blog by Nora Fyles, Yona Nestel and Koli Banik

What are key challenges that prevent gender equality in education? What evidence do we need to make an investment case for girls’ education and gender equality – at the global and national level? What actions should be taken now to accelerate progress in the 1000 days left to the Millennium Development Goals deadline?

These were some of the questions discussed at the ‘gender equality in education’ roundtable held during the recent Learning for All Ministerial Meetings in Washington, DC. The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) and Plan International convened gender and girls’ education experts to discuss the emerging trends and challenges in girls’ education, progress made to date, and the necessary actions needed to achieve gender equity and equality in education in the run-up to the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals and beyond.

Nora Fyles, Head of the UNGEI secretariat, set the stage by assessing the trends and gaps in girls’ education in the 8 countries that participated in the Learning for All Ministerial Meeting: Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.

“These countries have general strategies and/or policies in place on gender equality, and in most cases these include an education-specific policy on gender. But only a few of these countries have specific policies on girls’ education.” Fyles said. Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Sudan, for example, either have a policy or commitment on girls’ education planned or ‘in progress’. But there is insufficient evidence in terms of implementation of these policy commitments, and little if any reference on how these strategies will be funded.

Gender parity versus equality
In many of these countries, specific objectives for achieving gender equality were missing entirely from Education Sector Plans. In others, a narrow and unambitious articulation of gender equity goals meant issues of quality were falling off the track. It shouldn’t be a choice between parity and equality. Christine Beggs, Senior Education Advisor at USAID commented that one has to look beyond gender parity. “There is a need to examine gender equality, education opportunities, and learning outcomes. Also, what is enough? What should the global ask be?

“Is getting girls through lower secondary school enough, or should we be targeting secondary school completion and viable economic opportunities?”

Getting girls into secondary school and having them complete it is an issue in all of the 8 countries, except Bangladesh. There has been a successful expansion of primary education for girls. But a significant gender gap persists in secondary enrolment. In most countries, the transition between primary and secondary school sees girls’ enrolment drop sharply. Specific barriers, especially relevant to girls in the age and stage of adolescence are the biggest challenges to gender equality.

Barriers to adolescent girls
School related barriers faced by girls identified by the 8 countries are common across the developing world. These include fees and other direct costs, gender-based violence in and around the school, distance to schools, and the lack of trained female teachers. Other barriers have a direct impact on girls’ access to school and achievement in school lie outside of the school and the education system. Poverty, for example remains the primary reason why girls drop out of school. Girls from minority language groups, living in remote areas and girls with disabilities are also excluded in these countries as in many others. Early and forced marriage was also seen to be a particular issue with strong links to girls’ continued participation in school. In order to ensure girls succeed in school, these barriers need to be addressed through comprehensive, well-funded, policies and strategies. These strategies then need to be integrated into country Education Sector Plans.

For example, financial incentives for girls to attend and stay in schools have proven successful in many countries. Building new schools to reduce distance, improving toilet facilities, and sensitizing the larger community are other strategies that have shown to be effective. Sumaya Saluja, a Youth Advocate with the Global Education First Youth Advocacy Group added that, “There is evidence on the positive impact that comprehensive sexuality education has in engaging boys, empowering girls and raising awareness on issues of gender based violence, early and forced marriage and early pregnancy.”
“Much more needs to be done to ensure that education is truly gender transformative. Gender sensitive curricula and pedagogy and a focus on 21 century skills that support girls’ economic, social and civic aspirations are necessary” said Yona Nestel, Senior Education Advisor at Plan International Canada.

The ‘Call to Action’ for gender equality in education that was issued after the meeting puts forward a new standard for girls’ education, including a minimum of 1 year of early childhood education and a minimum of 9 years of primary and lower secondary school with opportunities for life-long learning. It calls for strategic efforts to combat gender-based violence including early and forced marriage and other forms of abuse faced by girls. The Call to Action also requested that the Special Envoy support the UN Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) and the Global Partnership for Education, with their partners, in working together to create a platform for advancing girls’ education.

No country should be left behind—the new standard is all girls learning and achieving in a safe and supportive learning environment.

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