The poorest young women have spent less than a year in school in the bottom ten countries

Girls learning in Niger. Credit: Tagaza Djibo/GEM Report

It’s International Women’s Day this week. As people in different cities rally for gender equality, not enough changes are being made to help the poorest girls pick themselves up from the bottom of the education ladder in many parts of the world. This blog draws together a list of the thirty worst performing countries for female education using updated data from the GEM Report’s WIDE database, renewing a list we posted on this blog in 2012 – our most popular blog to date. We hope it will help those advocating for girls’ education to focus their efforts.

What does it show?

Appallingly, in the bottom ten countries, the poorest 20% of young women in their early twenties have spent less than one year in school. At least six out of ten of the poorest 20% of girls have never been to school. When the bottom ten countries includes those also in the top ten for the largest populations in the world, such as Nigeria and Pakistan, these figures become seriously concerning.

South Sudan stands out for being in the bottom and second from bottom place for both girls and young women. Only one in ten of the poorest young girls in the country have been to school; young women have only made it through one term in school if they’re lucky.

In addition, as the 0 mark indicates below, six out of the ten bottom countries in both categories are conflict affected, with education clearly suffering as a result.

Among the bottom ranked thirty countries listed below, no young women has acquired more than 3.6 years of education. No wonder, then, that our last Report said it would be half a century before the new global education goal is met – way past the 2030 deadline.


*2012 ranking
Source: Worldwide Inequalities Database on Education

Have times changed?

Since 2012, when we last posted this ranking, there has been considerable movement among countries in the bottom ten.

For example, Somalia does not appear in the tables, where it last sat in bottom place. This is because of the lack of recent data given the security situation.

Nigeria has moved towards the bottom. It dropped 8 positions on this list for the poorest girls’ education, and 19 positions for the poorest young women’s education. The apparent trend may be spurious, as the data used in our last ranking appeared to paint too optimistic a picture. However, this data from 2013 confirm the longer term stagnation in the situation of poor girls in the country.

There are some notable positive movements on the list too. Comparing the right hand side of the above table to the left for Afghanistan, for example, shows that there is greater progress for girls than there were for the older generation that lived through the Taliban regime, but still this leaves almost seven out of the ten poorest girls without any education.

India has come off the list of the bottom 30 altogether, thanks to achieving gender parity in both primary and secondary education – the only country in South and West Asia to be able to say that.

The Gambia has made huge leaps, climbing 8 positions for the poorest girls, and 17 positions for the poorest young women. The Gambia, like Sierra Leone, whose position has also improved in the above table, included a gender goal in their education plans in both 2000 and 2012. Our 2015 Report showed that this helped increase girls’ enrolment, effectively reversing the gender gap.

Why we must zoom in on the poorest girls

The list above would be very different if it just related to girls education, and not the poorest girls, as our WIDE database shows. If you look at gender breakdowns without including breakdowns on wealth, for example, girls on average are doing quite well in most parts of the world as our 2016 Report showed.


Data like these enable policy makers to focus their efforts on the areas and population groups truly in need. The WIDE database also provides guidance for those lobbying for girls’ education this Women’s Day, and reminds us all of the continuing challenge in reaching the world’s poorest girls and women.


1 comment

Leave a Reply