Elaine Unterhalter, Institute of Education, University of London (Version 1.2)
This situation analysis explores issues around the work of many different partnerships which aim to combat gender inequality in education. It asks what was difficult, or overlooked, in the decade just passed, and uses the lessons learnt to point to ways in which inadequate attention to the pervasiveness of unequal power has meant that the important partnerships established cannot yet fully reach their potential. Gender inequities are contextualised within the complex web of global inequalities associated with the harshness of the present moment, marked by poverty, conflict, and the threats associated climate change and economic recession.The need for the expansion of provision of education for girls and women as a means to challenge discrimination and injustice was given great prominence in the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995. This paper further grounds its analysis in the subsequent aspirations of the gender-related Education for All goals, the second Millennium Development Goal to achieve universal primary education, and the third Millennium Development Goal which aims to promote gender equality and empower women. These aspirations are framed with reference to the work of partnerships such as the UN Girls’ Education Initiative which were formed to help lead this process. All of this work is placed within the context of improving, but still hugely unequal educational opportunities for women and girls. Two thirds of the 1 billion people worldwide who have had no schooling or left school after less than four years are women and girls. Women make up two thirds of the estimated 776 million adults, aged 15 or over, who have had no schooling.
Many countries have achieved enormous improvements in gender parity in enrolment and attendance, and significant achievements in expanding access to schooling have been made, but there is still much work to be done, and problems persist. Improvements in enrolments are set alongside the need for addressing intersecting inequalities associated with wealth, or with rural life, which are shown, amongst others, to particularly affect girls. There is a need for greater attention to be given to the impact of violence against girls upon their education, as well as the challenge to understand the complexity of gendered power in local settings, and the educational conditions that can support change and provide quality schooling. Concerns with expanding access are faced with the difficulties of everyday realities of hunger, unemployment, and lack of adequate conditions for livelihood or health, but the lack of attention to the connections between family livelihood, health, and gender equality in government social policy and the campaigning work of NGOs is an important missed opportunity. Enhancing different forms of participation is a key opportunity for our partnerships in the coming decade, whether through gender mainstreaming or including women in decision making at all levels of policy and practice. There are still major obstacles in realising rights to education, in education, and through education for many millions. Working for gender equality, empowerment and women’s rights through schooling is an enormous, but rewarding, challenge.
What has been done? Partnerships and Progress
- Despite money invested, problems persist. There are still major obstacles in realising rights to education, in education and through education for many millions.
- In 2009, 40 countries, with the largest complement in Africa, were considered unlikely to meet the goal of gender parity in primary school enrolments. 50 countries still have such large disparities in enrolments in favour of boys that they are unlikely to achieve gender parity in secondary education by 2015.
- Many countries have achieved enormous improvments in gender parity in enrolment and attendance, but UNESCO analyses of attendance show that being poor, rural and a girl means that attendance in school is much less likely to be regular.
- Partnerships for gender equality in education have faced considerable difficulties in reaching the poorest quintiles, ensuring quality or equity in post primary transfer. Some reasons for this relate to inadequate resources or political commitment, others to the complex web of global inequalities associated with poverty.
Spaces of power and exclusion: Partners who do not meet
- The worldwide concern with expanding access to education has emerged at a time when inequalities within and between countries have been growing. These concerns have struggled to find their place with everyday realities of hunger, unemployment, and lack of adequate conditions for livelihood or health.
- The challenge remains to understand the complexity of gendered power in local settings, and the educational conditions that can support change and provide quality schooling.
- Violence against women and girls, often unremarked upon and taken for granted, is known to be a vital factor in difficulties girls have in accessing or continuing school. Education, however, can give girls and women particular resources to challenge gender based violence.
- Finance for education is a major site of power. The money promised in 2000 to support EFA has not flowed quickly or efficiently enough, and has not adequately reached the lowest quintile or privileged the gender equality aspects of quality.
- The lack of attention to the connections between family livelihood, health, and gender equality in government social policy and the campaigning work of NGOs is an important missed opportunity.
Partnerships for equality: the promise of participation
- Enhancing different forms of participation appears a key opportunity for our partnerships in the coming decade.
- Gender mainstreaming continues to offer considerable potential to expose and change some of the hierarchies and forms of subordination that have made delivering quality of education and redressing violence so difficult.
- Including women in decision-making at all levels of policy and practice has the potential to end practices of exclusion and silencing.
- The potential offered by civil society organisations for enhancing participation in work to support girls’ educaiton and gender equality is considerable.