Gender equality and inequality concern how people live their daily lives, their relationships, choices, decisions and the freedom they do or do not have to live a life they value. Gender equality is a matter of social justice and human rights. It drives development progress. It is vital for achieving peaceful, inclusive, resilient and just societies.
The concept of equality between women and men was articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, then reinforced in international agreements including the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Progress has been made, yet substantive gender equality remains elusive.
At the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, the international community adopted a new global development agenda, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity that seeks to realise the human rights of all and achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls (United Nations, 2015a).
Realising substantive and lasting gender equality requires bold, urgent action in the new agenda including recognition of how societies create and reinforce everyday discriminatory norms, stereotypes and practices relating to gender. It also requires understanding one’s own values, the values of one’s community and society, and those of others around the world. Moreover, transformative action is needed to redress complex, deeply embedded inequality.
Education and lifelong learning – broadly defined to include formal, non-formal and informal learning – play a vital role in achieving gender equality. Education can be a locus of gender inequality, where stereotypical behaviour and views are reinforced, or a catalyst of transformation, providing individuals with opportunity and capability to challenge and change discriminatory attitudes and practices. As we move into a new era of international development, framed by progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), links between education and gender equality are clearly recognised, building on acknowledgement since the beginning of the Education for All (EFA) movement that improving girls’ education and ensuring equitable educational opportunities for all girls and boys is necessary for social justice on a global scale.
Education and gender equality are central concerns in the new sustainable development agenda. The Education 2030 Framework for Action, agreed by the global education community in November 2015 to accompany the SDG agenda, recognises that gender equality is inextricably linked to the right to education for all, and that achieving gender equality requires an approach that ‘ensures that girls and boys, women and men not only gain access to and complete education cycles, but are empowered equally in and through education’ (UNESCO, 2016a, p. 8). Women, girls, boys and men all need to be given opportunities for active participation in society, for their voices to be heard and their needs met (UN Women, 2016a).
To facilitate and achieve this, better evidence-based knowledge and understanding of gender issues in and through education are needed. The Gender Review of the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) recognises and largely focuses on the challenges facing girls and women because of the disproportionate overall disadvantage they continue to experience in and beyond education. But it also understands that gender disadvantage can be experienced by boys and men, and that gender equality involves males, relationships and power. Gender inequality affects us all. Achieving gender equality must involve us all.