Girls continue to face sharp discrimination in access to schoolParis/New Delhi - Despite slow but significant progress achieved in the 1990s, girls continue to face “sharp discrimination in access to schooling” in a majority of developing countries, according to a global report released today in New Delhi.
Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children
Gender parity in education remains a distant prospect in 54 countries including 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as Pakistan and India, says the latest Education For All Global Monitoring Report*, the most comprehensive survey of education trends worldwide. In China, the most populous country in the world, boys will continue to outnumber girls in secondary schools for many years to come.
“While not a complete surprise, these results are obviously a cause for deep concern,” says Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO. “Gender parity in education is a priority not only because inequality is a major infringement of fundamental human rights but because it represents an important obstacle to social and economic development.”
Gender equality in education is one of the six goals** of the Education For All programme endorsed by 164 governments at the World Education Forum, in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000. As a first step to achieving equality, they set the target of 2005 to achieve gender parity (equal enrolment of boys and girls) in primary and secondary education.
The report measures efforts being made in all parts of the world to enrol more girls in school. In the decade to 2000, the number of girls in primary school increased faster than that of boys, with the global Gender Parity Index (GPI) rising from 0.89 to 0.93 (a GPI of 1 indicates parity between the sexes). But 57% of the estimated 104 million primary-age children out of school worldwide are girls, which suggests that discrimination remains a pressing problem. Of the 128 countries for which data for the reference year 2000 is available, 52 have already achieved gender parity or will have done so by 2005 at primary and secondary level.
Amongst the poorest performers in terms of girls’ access to primary school, according to the Report, are Chad with a GPI of 0.63, Yemen (0.63), Guinea-Bissau (0.67), Benin (0.68), Niger (0.68), Ethiopia (0.69), Central African Republic (0.69), Burkina Faso (0.71), Guinea (0.72), Mali (0.72), Liberia (0.73), and Pakistan (0.74), (see table 5 in the Statistical Annex of the Report). Girls’ enrolment in these countries is only three quarters that of boys. India, with a GPI of 0.83 at primary level, is only slightly ahead.
While the situation globally leaves girls at a disadvantage, the Report points out that because too many boys do not finish secondary education, the balance has tipped in favour of girls at this level in several countries including Bangladesh (1.05), Denmark (1.05), Mexico (1.05), New Zealand (1.06), Bahrain (1.07), Iceland (1.07) Russian Federation (1.07), Trinidad and Tobago (1.07) Colombia (1.10), Philippines (1.10), Malaysia (1.11), United Arab Emirates (1.12), United Kingdom (1.17), Suriname (1.18) and Sweden (1.26) (see table 7 in the Statistical Annex of the Report).
“Investing in the education of girls has a high pay off,” says Christopher Colclough, the director of the Global Monitoring Report. “Education helps to increase (womens’) productivity to a significant extent, thereby adding to household incomes and reducing poverty. It also increases personal and social well-being. When parents, in particular mothers, are educated, their children – both boys and girls – will be healthier, better nourished and have a greater chance of going to school and doing well there. Investing in educating girls now is one of the best ways of ensuring that future generations will be educated.”
The need to supplement family income is one of the main reasons why children do not attend classes, says the Report. According to the most recent estimates “18 percent of children aged 5-14 are economically active, amounting to some 211 million children, about half of whom are girls.” In addition, many more millions of children are involved in domestic labour, sometimes at great cost to their educational participation or success. “A much larger proportion of these children are girls than boys,” says Colclough.
Cost is another major obstacle: in spite of the human rights instruments which commit states to free and compulsory education at primary level, school fees continue to be levied in at least 101 countries, in the form of tuition fees, the cost of books, compulsory school uniforms, and community contributions. In six African countries, states the Report, “parents were found to contribute almost one third of the total annual costs of primary schooling.”
There are also numerous other barriers to girls’ education including early marriage, HIV/AIDS, conflict, and violence in schools. In Nepal, for example, 40 percent of girls are married by the time they are 15. In Southern Africa and the Caribbean, girls between 15 and 19 are infected by HIV/AIDS at rates four to seven times higher than boys, “a disparity linked to widespread exploitation, sexual abuse and discriminatory practices,” says the Report.
It has been estimated that up to 100,000 girls directly participated in conflicts in at least 30 countries during the 1990s, as fighters, cooks, porters, spies, servants and sex slaves, and the vast majority of the world’s estimated 25 million internally displaced persons are women and children. The Report cites a recent study from South Africa which shows that the threat of violence at school is “one of the most significant challenges to learning” there.
Classroom practices can also influence girls’ participation rates in education, states the Report, referring to a study of countries in sub-Saharan Africa which shows that girls were in general more involved than boys in such tasks as cleaning floors and fetching water. In many countries, the extremely low number of women teachers, who could serve as role models for girls, is another disadvantage. In India, “almost 90 percent of single teacher schools, which account for at least 20 percent of all schools, are staffed by men and 72 percent of two-teacher schools have no women teachers.”
The Report stresses that gender parity does not mean gender equality. It points to those countries, notably in Europe, Latin America and Asia, where, it says, boys’ underachievement in the educational arena has not yet resulted in their falling behind in the economic and political spheres. Women may have to work harder and do better than men, it concludes, “if they are to be successful in competition for jobs, equal pay and decision-making positions.”
This year’s Report also includes an EFA Development Index, providing an overall view of the progress countries are making towards the four Dakar goals that can be most easily measured: universal primary education, adult literacy, quality of education (survival to grade 5) and gender parity. This first index presents data for 94 countries for the year 2000, excluding most of the OECD Member States, but including between 50 percent and 80 percent of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States, South and West Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Of these countries, only 16 – most of which are in Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean - have either achieved or are close to achieving the four goals listed above, having an EDI of 0.95 or higher. Forty-two countries, all in developing regions, have EDI values of between 0.80 and 0.94, which puts them within reach of the EFA goals provided they keep up the momentum. Another 36 countries have EDI values lower than 0.80, which means they are a long way from meeting the Dakar objectives. Twenty-two of these lowest EDI countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, but they also include Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
The Education for All Global Monitoring Report is prepared by an independent international team based at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris (France). It is part of the follow-up to the Dakar World Education Forum, and benefits from the advice of an international editorial board. It is funded by UNESCO and a number of bilateral agencies.
* “EFA Global Monitoring Report 2003/4, Gender and Education for All, The Leap to Equality”. UNESCO Publishing, France, 2003
** More than 160 countries attending the World Education Forum committed themselves to achieving the following goals by 2015:
Universal primary education
Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes
Achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy
Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015
Improving all aspects of the quality of education.
The Report is accessible online at: www.efareport.unesco.org
B-Roll available from Christine Carbonel-Saillard: Bureau of Public Information, Audiovisual Section, tel : +33 (0)1 45 68 00 68 - email: firstname.lastname@example.org