Gender equality – it can’t yet be counted but it most certainly counts

By Aaron Benavot, Director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, and Nicole Bella, Senior Statistician and Policy Analyst at the EFA Global Monitoring Report.

This week, we launched the 2015 EFA GMR Gender Summary in time for International Day of the Girl Child. As we noted in a previous blog this week, it showed that despite significant progress made, fewer than half of countries have achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary education. What it couldn’t show in such an easy headline is where we are, or are not, in achieving gender equality in education – the other half of the EFA gender goal. This blog explains why, and what’s being done about it.


There is a limited understanding of the meaning of gender equality, and a dearth of data to measure it. A few weeks ago, a workshop on this issue, organized by UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) together with the MacArthur Foundation, was held at the London International Development Centre (LIDC).

The workshop was informed by a well-developed concept note that proposed a working definition of gender equality in and through education. It identified seven areas that reproduce gender inequality, such as teaching and learning practices and resource distribution, but that, on the flip side, could instead be used to support gender equality in education.

DFID’s project on the girls’ education challenge (GEC) which includes a focus on gender differences in access to instructional materials, as well as learning and teaching practices, can inform this work. Similarly of importance are recent studies by USAID into what gender equality means for teachers in their training, teaching and practices.

We should say upfront that there is no consensus on all these issues. Many analysts continue to see gender equality through a parity lens in part because of a lack of data to measure and monitor it.   We are concerned that the mention of data limitations, while true, risks bringing us back yet again to a narrow definition of gender equality.

How is gender equality addressed in the SDG agenda?

It is a shame that even the gender target 4.5 is mainly parity oriented, underlining having equal numbers of boys to girls, or women to men. We must ensure that we broaden the scope of this target to incorporate gender equality by linking it with target 4.7 (which mentions gender equality), the means of implementation 4.a (which focuses on having gender-sensitive facilities and safe learning environments) and the fifth SDG goal on gender equality and empowerment.

Furthermore, since gender is invariably tied up with other drivers of disadvantage such as poverty and place of residence, we should link the monitoring of gender equality in education to the tenth SDG goal on reducing inequality within and between countries. The GMR’s Worldwide Inequalities Database on Education (WIDE) is an important tool for doing this.


Putting on gender-tinted glasses

To understand gender equality in its entirety and achieve it, we must look at all those elements in society and in education systems that reflect gender norms, values and practices within which gender equalities are deeply rooted.

Addressing these norms will require us to be brave and bold. As the CEO of Plan said at the launch event for our Gender Report this week, “We will need to tackle issues such as sexual abuse and incest if we’re to get to grips with gender equality in its entirety”. As Chelsea Clinton said “If girls don’t see strong, competent female teachers, engineers, and film stars, they won’t imagine themselves as that.”

The GMR has made some inroads identifying some areas needing attention, as reflected in the 2015 Gender Summary, and as presented at this workshop a few weeks ago:

  1. The most well known manifestation of gender inequality is child marriage and early pregnancy, on which some data exist. We can also track legislation on the issue that needs to be strengthened. If existing laws on age of marriage were enforced, this would result in an overall 15% increase in years of schooling in South and West Asia and a 39% increase in sub-Saharan Africa.
  1. The GMR penned a policy paper on the complex definition of school-related gender based violence and the need for better data on the issue. In the future we plan to track where countries are including policies to address this issue in their education plans, as all members of UNESCO’s Executive Board signed up to do last year.
  1. It is also important to track where there are direct or hidden costs for education that can disadvantage girls in particular where families’ resources are limited. The GMR found that among 50 countries with data, households are covering on average almost a third of the cost of education.
  1. We can analyse the state of school infrastructure, such as access to schools and to water and sanitation. A one-hour reduction in the time spent walking to a water source increases girls’ enrolment by 18-19% in Pakistan and 8-9% in Yemen. The construction of single-sex toilets also has been found a positive impact on the share of female teachers at schools, which may indirectly benefit girls.
  1. genderblog3We can include data on the persistence of a gendered division of child labour. Girls are more likely to combine schooling and household work. In many countries, this increases the possibility of dropping out or repeating grades, and often puts them at particular risk of early marriage.
  1. Also important is increasing the number of female teachers, and training all teachers in gender-sensitive teaching, both policies can have an important influence on girls’ education. A study in 30 developing countries found that increasing the proportion of female teachers in a district increased girls’ access and retention in education, particularly in rural areas.

The new GEM Report team will support the UNGEI initiative to develop a broader theory of change and a proposal for a measurement and monitoring framework. This should include mapping the existing and missing data and defining clear indicators.

Such initiatives will support GEM Report plans to develop an overall monitoring framework for all education-related SDG targets for 2016. This is absolutely essential if we are to effectively track progress towards gender equality in the future.



  1. With all this advocacy about girls’ education one would expect many experimental treatments conducted to various aspects of girls’ education and results coming out. What are these experiments and what are the results?
    Or are the donor staff just writing ‘advocacy’ blogs?
    Imagine that you have a serious medical problem and you go to the doctor. And all the doctor does is write advocacy pieces about your disease and collect statistics! All that while getting a top salary.
    If the girls know of the donors’ (in)actions, how satisfied would they be????

    1. I am asking myself the same questions you are asking/ What are the results of girls’ educations programs? What is different with the girls’ education? Great questions.

  2. Exactly, still education is not equally provided for girls compared to boys. This should be vanished completely in future. Hope on reading this blog minimum changes can be driven in few of Indians.

  3. Mmmh, I’m real touched with the fact that girls should see themselves “STRONG” It is true and practical, that changes start within.

  4. Incorporating multiple dimensions of gender equality in education into the analysis of education system and educational intervention would be an important step toward achieving the goal. However, broadening the scope may require the international society to mediate potential conflicts between the ethical value of gender equality and historical roles and norms of gender existing in many local communities. Closing the gap between the global discourse and local realities rooted in historical contexts would be important.

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