Gender gap in primary school enrolment has halved over past 25 years

Sunday is International Women’s Day. The year 2020 is also the 25-year anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing in 1995), which culminated with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a key global policy document on gender equality and the most ambitious roadmap for the empowerment of girls and women.

fact sheet coverTo mark the occasion, we have released a new fact sheet on girls’ education looking at progress achieved over the past 25 years. Using UIS data, it shows that girls’ enrolment rates in primary and secondary education have almost doubled in low-income countries, and that the gender gap in primary enrolment was halved. But it also shows that the pace of change is not fast enough. GEM Report calculations show that, at the present rate, getting every girl into primary school will only happen in 2050. These figures will be built on even further in the GEM 2020 Gender Report due out this September.

We have long known about the benefits of educating girls. Our past research shows that if all women completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds. If they had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut by half, saving 3 million lives, and there would be two-thirds fewer child marriages. If all girls in sub-Saharan Africa, and in South and West Asia had a secondary education, the number of pregnancies under the age of 17 years would fall by close to 60%.

But slow progress is preventing girls from reaping these benefits. As the new interactive website,, illustrates visually using UIS data, the primary enrolment rate of girls over the past 25 years has only increased by ten percentage points from 78% to 88%, less than half a point per year.

gender parity

The new fact sheet also shows progress since 1995 in global commitment to girls’ right to an education using UNESCO’s HerAtlas launched at the G7 event hosted at UNESCO last year in Paris. In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action urged countries to eliminate gender discrimination in education, for example, which is now prohibited by the constitutions of 90 countries.

mapSince the Beijing Platform for Action, the number of States that have ratified the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (CADE) has increased from 82 to 105. Although, this still means almost half have not signed it as the map on HerAtlas shows.

By 1995, 150 States had ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It has now been ratified by 189 States Parties, although 27 countries signed it with reservations to particular articles on child marriage or discrimination policy as the GEM 2017/8 Gender  Report uncovered.

A new social media campaign, is being launched in partnership with multiple education organizations to help advance the commitments made on education in the Beijing Declaration from now until International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October.  The campaign calls on girls and teachers to add their voices to call for change by saying what they would want to improve for the next generation of girls in 25 years’ time.

The campaign will feed inputs into The Generation Equality Forum, a global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-chaired by France and Mexico, with civil society as a leader and partner. The Forum will kick-off in Mexico City, Mexico, (7-8 May 2020) and be concluded over three days in Paris, France (from 7 to 10 July 2020).  Look out for a second fact sheet issued in July for the Paris event containing some pre-released data from our 2020 Gender Report due out this September.


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