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.
This brief summarises results from an analysis of the impacts of child marriage on educational attainment for girls and their children and document the extent to which keeping girls in school could help end child marriage.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into effect on 1 January 2016, after it was adopted unanimously at the United Nations by world Heads of State and Governments in September 2015. With its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, the Agenda covers a comprehensive set of issues across the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.
In many respects, the 2030 Agenda is a significant improvement from the previous agenda, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were supposed to have been met by 2015. It is universal in applying to all countries, rather than just ‘developing’ countries, and it covers a more comprehensive set of issues, therefore better addressing the complexities of sustainable development and reflecting the whole spectrum of human rights. The 2030 Agenda also has a central focus on combatting inequality, both through stand-alone goals (Goal 5 on gender inequality and Goal 10 on reducing inequality within and among countries) and an overarching pledge to ‘Leave No One Behind’ in implementation. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is recognised as a cross-cutting objective across all the goals (with indicators that are required to be disaggregated by sex), but is also included as a stand-alone goal with specific targets. The Agenda also recognizes the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, as among its foundations.
Whereas the MDG commitments on gender equality were limited to targets on gender parity in education and maternal mortality, SDG 5 includes more comprehensive and potentially transformative commitments for women’s rights, due to the effective mobilization of women’s rights organizations. It includes targets to: eliminate all forms of discrimination, end gender-based violence and child marriage; ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights; increase participation in decision-making at all levels; ensure women’s equal rights to economic resources, including ownership and control over land; and to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work (including through the provision of public services and social protection.) Moreover, there are gender specific targets in other goals, for example, to eliminate gender disparity in education (SDG 4.5); ensure women’s access to adequate sanitation (SDG 6.2); equal pay for work of equal value (SDG 8.5); and safe and affordable transport for women (SDG 11.2). As the inclusion of these issues indicates, the SDGs are therefore far more holistic and rights-aligned on gender equality than the MDGs, despite some weaknesses.
Yet, when dealing with issues of accountability, there is no major improvement over the MDGs. Under the MDGs, there was no clarity as to who was responsible for what, there was no institutional mechanism through which ‘beneficiaries’ could meaningfully engage in shaping or challenging decisions at the domestic level, and there was an inadequate, opaque system to monitor and report on progress. The lack of accountability for the MDGs was considered a primary shortfall. With a view to improving on these shortcomings, civil society organizations and many other actors involved in the discussions regarding the new development agenda made it a priority to push for robust accountability for the SDGs. However, during the political negotiations, there was resistance by many States seeking to systematically water down proposals for accountability. Consequently, the final text of the 2030 Agenda includes only a weak voluntary process of reporting to monitor compliance. In the end, the terms “follow-up and review” were preferred over “accountability”.
The implementation of the SDGs is a long and complex process, and the fear is that without stronger accountability mechanisms, States and other stakeholders might not dedicate sufficient efforts and resources towards their compliance. Moreover, compliance with gender-related goals and targets also requires gender-responsive accountability mechanisms. This means, at a bare minimum, that women should be full participants in any oversight or accountability process and that women’s human rights standards must be those against which public decisions are assessed. Without these mechanisms, governments may well focus their efforts on the achievement of goals and targets which are not aligned with the priorities of national women rights’ and feminist movements, or fall far short of their ambitions.
The Special Rapporteur believes that non-formal education programmes provide flexible, learner-centred means to improve education outcomes. This is particularly relevant for girls and groups in vulnerable situations, including children with disabilities, minorities and rural and impoverished children, who are disproportionately represented among out-of-school populations. When designed to be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable, such programmes enable states to fulfil the right to education of learners who are excluded from the formal system. Furthermore, such programmes can promote holistic learning objectives that support cultural and linguistic rights.
Sixteen years after the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban, an estimated two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school. The aim of getting all girls into school was never fully realised, and the proportion of students who are girls is even falling in some parts of the country. The vast majority of the millions of Afghan children not in school are girls, and only 37 percent of adolescent girls are literate, compared to 66 percent of adolescent boys.
'I won’t be a doctor, and one day you’ll be sick: Girls’ access to education in Afghanistan' is based on 249 interviews in Kabul, Kandahar, Balkh, and Nangarhar provinces, most with girls who were kept from completing their education.
The report describes how, as security in the country worsens and international donors disengage, progress made toward getting girls into school is at risk. Afghanistan’s government provides fewer schools for girls than boys. Many children live far from a school so are not able to attend, which particularly affects girls. About 41 percent of schools have no buildings, and many lack boundary walls, water and toilets—disproportionately affecting girls. Girls are kept home due to gender norms that do notvalue or permit their education, or due to security concerns. A third of girls marry before age 18, and forces many girls out of school.
The report calls on the Afghan government, and its international donors, to increase girls’ access to education through protecting schools and students, institutionalising and expanding models that help girls study, and taking concrete steps to meet the government’s obligation to provide universal free and compulsory primary education.
The second edition of the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) presents the latest evidence on global progress towards the education targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
With hundreds of millions of people still not going to school, and many not achieving minimum skills at school, it is clear education systems are off track to achieve global goals. The marginalised currently bear the most consequences but also stand to benefit the most if policy-makers pay sufficient attention to their needs. Faced with these challenges, along with tight budgets and increased emphasis on results-oriented value for money, countries are searching for solutions. Increased accountability often tops the list.
The 2017/8 GEM Report shows the entire array of approaches to accountability in education. It ranges from countries unused to the concept, where violations of the right to education go unchallenged, to countries where accountability has become an end in itself instead of a means to inclusive, equitable and high-quality education and lifelong learning for all.
The report emphasises that education is a shared responsibility. While governments have primary responsibility, all actors – schools, teachers, parents, students, international organizations, private sector providers, civil society and the media – have a role in improving education systems. The report emphasises the importance of transparency and availability of information but urges caution in how data are used. It makes the case for avoiding accountability systems with a disproportionate focus on narrowly defined results and punitive sanctions. In an era of multiple accountability tools, the report provides clear evidence on those that are working and those that are not.
This research report examines how international human rights treaties and UN human rights mechanisms (i.e., human rights treaty bodies and special procedures) have addressed gender stereotypes/stereotyping. The report seeks to:
- define key concepts (e.g., gender stereotypes/stereotyping)
- identify and map international human rights obligations related to gender stereotypes/stereotyping
- analyse how, in the view of UN human rights mechanisms, gender stereotypes/stereotyping harm women and violate their human rights
- pinpoint and explore some of the key challenges in addressing gender stereotypes/stereotyping, as revealed in the work of the UN human rights mechanisms
In the present report, the Special Rapporteur reviews the role of equity and inclusion in strengthening the right to education, in particular in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The Special Rapporteur concludes by calling for states to take significant, positive actions to tackle discrimination, inequity and exclusion in education to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals are met.
See chapter six for information on gender equality in education.
This guidance aims to provide a comprehensive, one-stop resource on school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), including clear, knowledge-based operational guidance, diverse case studies drawn from examples of promising practice and recommended tools for the education sector and its partners working to eliminate gender-based violence. It distils programme knowledge based on existing global literature, promising practices, expert recommendations and practitioner consensus.