2020 Gender Report

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CREDIT: Tom Merilion/Save the Children

The Generation Equality Forum, planned for 2021, is tasked with developing a new text that could replace the Beijing Declaration for the next generation of girls and women. It has identified six so-called Action Coalitions on violence, economic justice and rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, climate justice, technology and innovation, and feminist movements and leadership. Education may not be among them, but alongside financing, gender norms, law and policies, data, intersectional discrimination and systemic change, it has been designated as a crosscutting theme to help achieve the targets of each Action Coalition.

As we look back at the achievements of the last generation of girls and women, should the international community change its strategic objectives to achieve gender equality, in and through education – and if so how? The journey towards gender equality is a process of ensuring inclusion. All spheres of human activity in all societies need to be aligned toward providing equal opportunities for girls and boys, women and men, and not discriminating against them. The past 25 years have seen progress in many fields, stagnation in others and, regrettably, regression as well. The agenda set in Beijing remains relevant today; the difference may be one of degree: The distance to the goal of equality has shortened in some areas and countries, while it may remain unchanged in other areas and countries. Progress in some areas allows the agenda to be bolder in some demands which a few years ago might not have seemed promising. And progress can no longer be reduced to a superficial assessment of gender parity.

Reflecting the distances travelled and capturing the current context, the report makes six recommendations to help focus planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring efforts in support of the process towards gender equality in and through education for the new generation. Underpinning them is the call made in the 2020Global Education Monitoring Report for countries to widen their understanding of inclusion in education, embracing learner diversity as a strength. Education systems should respond to the needs of every child, youth and adult to enable them to learn and fulfil their potential. Gender, whether as a single characteristic in its different expressions of identity, or in combination with other characteristics, such as age, location, poverty, disability, ethnicity, language, religion, migration or displacement, sexual orientation, incarceration, beliefs and attitudes, should not lead to discrimination in education participation or experience.

All girls should complete at least 12 years of education, and gender parity should be achieved in all levels of education and literacy in line with commitments made in SDG targets 4.1, 4.5 and 4.6.

Eliminate gender disparity in education access, participation and completion. There are fewer than 9 females enrolled for every 10 males in 4% of countries in primary, 9% in lower secondary, 15% in upper secondary and 21% in tertiary education. Discrimination, either consciously displayed or the result of inertia of past discrimination, is at the root of the problem girls and women are facing in these countries, unlike the more common case of countries in which men are at a disadvantage in upper secondary and tertiary education. Gaps must be closed with measures that prevent early school leaving, especially through social assistance and social protection programmes that target disadvantaged families, whose daughters are most vulnerable to unequal gender norms that condemn them to care and housework roles. While not sufficient, closing the remaining education gender gaps is a necessary condition for realizing economic justice.

Women should have equal access to technical, vocational and tertiary education, in line with the commitment made in SDG targets 4.3 and 4.4.

Ensure balanced representation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields of study. The share of females in engineering or ICT in tertiary education is below 25% in over two-thirds of countries. The percentage of female students in technical and vocational education declined from 45% in 1995 to 42% in 2018 and is highly gender segregated by course. Women are also not pursuing careers in information and communications technology, despite the fact that girls are doing at least as well as boys in mathematics and science in the majority of countries. This discrepancy suggests the urgent need for active measures to ensure teachers, counsellors and the whole school community offer gender-responsive career orientation to deconstruct false images of technology and their biased connection to gender stereotypes. Programmes that redress such imbalances are urgently needed to contribute to technology and innovation for gender equality and prevent the emerging digital literacy gender gaps.

The teaching of knowledge and skills for sustainable development should incorporate gender equality in line with SDG target 4.7, starting from the early years as per SDG target 4.2.

Remove stereotypes and gender bias from teaching and learning materials. Gender bias in textbooks is still rife. The share of females in secondary school English-language textbook text and images was 44% in Malaysia and Indonesia, 37% in Bangladesh and 24% in Punjab province, Pakistan. Not only are girls and women under-represented; when included, they are often depicted in traditional roles, reflecting the inertia of past discrimination, as textbooks are slow to change even when the society around them strives to change. Yet, textbooks are the only books some children may read, and they are thus powerful tools to promote women’s rights. Women are shown in passive, dependent and domestic roles. Developing gender-responsive teaching and learning materials and ensuring regular gender audits of teaching and learning materials requires strong leadership. Textbook revision processes need to be inclusive, ensuring that women participate equally and that their views are heard. They must also be based on research and supported by relevant training for curriculum and textbook specialists. A gender dimension must be explicit in tenders, terms of reference and contracts for drafting teaching and learning materials. Teachers need to be trained in the use of gender-responsive teaching materials.

Education facilities need to be gender sensitive and learning environments safe, non violent, inclusive and effective for all in line with the commitment made in SDG target 4.a.

Make schools safe spaces for all girls and boys, free from gender-based violence. Unequal gender power relations are also expressed through gender-based violence, a serious threat to efforts to achieve gender equality. In its school-related manifestation, violence is an obstacle to the achievement of universal secondary education and perpetuates gender-unequal norms. Fighting it requires an inclusive school ethos, respect of clear rules about what is acceptable, preparation of teachers and head teachers so that they take a critical view of their attitudes and values and stand ready to defend gender equality, and engagement with the community, not least in order to improve reporting of and response to incidents of violence. Sanitation facilities need to be improved to strengthen feelings of privacy and safety.

Commit to delivering comprehensive sexuality education at all education levels. In addition to the challenge of school-related gender-based violence, early marriage and pregnancy are further obstacles to universal secondary education. Early pregnancy rates remain high: In 2019, 14% of 20- to 24-year-old women globally had given birth before age 18 and 25% in sub-Saharan Africa. It is necessary but not sufficient to abolish openly hostile laws that ban pregnant girls from school or to make policy environments more supportive of pregnant girls and young mothers. What must be confronted are communities harbouring prejudices, condoning child marriage and tolerating violence. Governments will need to commit to implementing comprehensive sexuality education that promotes bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights but will also need to be prepared to overcome two challenges. First, many people still hold erroneous beliefs, unsupported by evidence, about the appropriate content of education, which are often fuelled and propagated by organized opposition and lobbying. Second, they will need to manage the complex financing, teacher education, curriculum content, assessment, monitoring and evaluation requirements and ensure intersectoral collaboration, particularly between education and health authorities.

Women should have equal access to education management and leadership positions alongside commitments to ensuring adequate supply of qualified teachers made in SDG target 4.c.

Ensure balanced representation of women in education management and leadership positions. While in some low-income countries, especially in rural areas, there are too few women – a legacy of past discrimination in girls’ education that acts as a disincentive for the current generation of girls, especially in contexts where traditional norms continue to dominate – the teaching profession is characterized overall by feminization. Such gender segregation contradicts commitments to gender equality in the labour market. It is often linked to perceptions of teaching as a career that better suits women, perpetuating gender-unequal norms about labour market opportunities. These norms are also reflected in the limits women face in attaining education management and leadership positions. In 48 middle- and high-income countries, there is a gender gap of 20 percentage points among teachers and head teachers in lower secondary schools. Measures to promote gender equality in education management and leadership would support progress in gender equality in management and leadership positions in other sectors in line with the Generation Equality Forum’s call for feminist movements and leadership. They would also echo the call for feminist action for climate justice, as unbalanced representation in crucial decision-making bodies and processes is one of the obstacles to ensuring these relevant decisions are sustainable and fair.