Gender inequality has been present thoughtout history, and it continues to be a major barrier to human development today. Since 1990, girls and women have taken major steps, but they have not yet achieved the expected gender equity. Too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation, labor market, and so on. The Gender Inequality Index (GII) is used to measure gender inequalities in three important aspects of human development:
- reproductive health, measured by maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates;
- empowerment, measured by proportion of parliamentary seats occupied by females and proportion of adult females and males over 25 years of age with at least some secondary education;
- economic status, measured by labor force participation rate of female and male populations aged over 15 years of age.
Nevertheless, in this post we will focus on the importance of an equal education for both genders, as well as on learning about the differences not only between “Gender parity” and “Gender equality”, but also between “schooling” and “education”.
According to the World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education, participants of the World Conference on Education for All in 1990, and of subsequent international assemblies, embraced an ambitious vision of a world in which “all children would have access to an education that would enable them to realize their highest potential as individuals, parents, citizens and workers”. In discussing education and gender it is important to distinguish between “gender parity” and “gender equality”. Gender parity intends to achieve equal participation for girls and boys in education, but this does not mean that the education they have access to is one of quality. As we have seen in many occasions, schooling targets alone won´t reach learning objectives. As said by the CGD Policy Paper 104 February 2017, in Uganda, 45 percent of 12 year olds that are in grade 6, were still functionally illiterate.
Furthermore, in Nigeria, approximately 80 percent of people aged between 15 to 24 years of age, who left school after completing five to six years, are unable to read a full sentence. On the other hand , gender equality is understood more broadly, not only as the right to gain access and participate in education, but to achieve benefits from gender-sensitive educational environments and to obtain meaningful education outcomes that ensure that the benefits of education translate into greater participation in social, economic and political development of their societies.
Many of the educational global statements about global goals have conflated “schooling” and “education” by treating them as synonymous or equating them by definition, so that someone who attended school was by definition, educated. Nonetheless, this statement is false, as in many countries around the world, even though many factors have contributed to the increase in women´s participation in education, statistics proved that this education won’t translate into greater participation in their social, economic and political environment, as many of the students get out of school without knowing how to read.
It is true that the situation has improved in the recent years; whereas enrolments have been increasing since 1970 for both sexes, girls’ enrolment has been rising faster at both primary and secondary levels. Moreover, today women that enroll in higher levels of the educational system are less likely than men to drop out of school, and they exceed men in grades. Nevertheless, despite the progress achieved in recent years, girls continue to suffer severe disadvantage and exclusion in education systems throughout their lives. An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity: only two out of 35 countries. South and West Asia has the widest gender gap in its out-of-school population – 80 percent of its out-of-school girls are unlikely to ever start school compared to 16 percent of its out-of-school boys. Furthermore, a better education often does not translate into better employment opportunities. Even though women outperform men in education, they still face significant discrimination in the labor market and end up in jobs where they don’t use any of their skills.
The lack of gender parity and gender equality is an issue all around the world, as almost all countries face gender disparities of some kind, although the challenges vary widely between different regions, and even at different levels within a country. Consequently, we can affirm that gender disparities and inequalities are prevalent within schooling process in both rich and poor countries. For this reason, women empowerment should be a worldwide priority. Girls’ and women’ education is both an intrinsic right and a latter to help them reach other development objectives. Providing girls and women with a quality education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to get married early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. Therefore, even though education may not be the only input into women´s empowerment, it is a central one.