Despite progress, girls and women continue to be discriminated against in accessing education and within education systems. 57 million children worldwide, including 31 million girls, are out of school and two thirds of illiterate adults are women. In developing countries, adolescent girls are more likely to drop-out of secondary school than boys, particularly in rural areas.
There are many reasons that prevent girls from going to school. Poverty, pregnancy, school-based violence, child marriage and discriminatory gender norms are some of the major obstacles to girls’ education worldwide. School fees, the threat of violence on the way to and in school, and the perceived benefits of girls’ domestic work also keep girls out-of-school. Pregnancy and child marriage cut short adolescent girls’ schooling before they have completed secondary school.
Article 10 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is the most comprehensive provision on girls and women’s right to education. According to this article, states have the obligation to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education and to ensure:
- the same conditions for access to studies at all educational levels, both in urban and rural areas
- the same quality of education; the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women
- the same opportunities to benefit from scholarships and other study grants, to access programmes of continuing education, including literacy programmes, and to participate in sport and physical education
- the reduction of female students drop-out rates
- access to educational information on health, including advice on family planning
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also guarantee girls and women’s right to education combining general provisions on non-discrimination with specific provisions on the right to education.
Girls and women's right to education is particularly protected in Africa:
- Article 12 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa enumerates a list of states' obligations to guarantee girls and women the right to education and training, including protecting women, especially the girl-child, from sexual harassment in schools and other educational institutions and providing sanctions against the perpetrators of such practices. States are also obligated to take positive action to promote literacy among women, as well as their education and training and to promote the enrolment and retention of girls in schools.
- Article 11 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child obliges the state to take special measures in respect of female to ensure equal access to education.
- Article 13 of the African Youth Charter provides the state shall ensure where applicable, that girls and young women who become pregnant or married before completing their education shall have the opportunity to continue their education.
For examples, see UNESCO publication, Implementing the Right to Education, A Compendium of practical examples (pages 85 to 95). However, more needs to be done worldwide, to translate States’ international obligations into national laws and policies and to ensure they are implemented.
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979 (Article 10; General Recommendations 25 and 28)
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 (Articles 2 and 13; General Comments 13 and 16)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (Articles 2, 28 and 29; General Comment 1)
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (Articles 2, 3, 24, 25 and 26; General Comment 28)
- UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, 1960 (Articles 1, 2, 3 and 4)
- African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, 1981 (Articles 2 and 17)
- African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990 (Article 11)
- Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, 2003 (Article 12)
- African Youth Charter, 2006 (Article 13)
- European Convention for the Protection of Human Right and Fundamental Freedoms, 1948; Optional Protocol 1, 1952 and Optional Protocol 12, 2000 (Article 14 of the Convention, Article 2 of the First Protocol and Article 1 of the Twelfth Protocol)
- European Social Charter (revised), 1996 (Articles E, 7, 10 and 17)
- Recommendation on Gender Mainstreaming in Education, 2007
- Charter of Fundamental Freedoms of the European Union, 2000 (Articles 14 and 23)
- Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights, Protocol of San Salvador, 1998 (Articles 13 and 16)
- Inter-American Democratic Charter, 2001 (Article 16)
- Arab Charter on Human Rights, 2004 (Article 41)
For more details, see International Instruments - Girls and Women's Right to Education