A girl or a woman in school is realizing her fundamental human right to an education. She also has a far greater shot at realizing her full potential throughout her life, becoming better equipped to secure a decent, well-paid job, for instance, or leave a violent home.
Education is essential for women to attain gender equality and become leaders of change. At the same time, educated women benefit entire societies. They make substantial contributions to flourishing economies and the improved health, nutrition and education of their families.
The Millennium Development Goals called for achieving universal primary education by 2015, among boys and girls. Today, the world is closer than ever before to that goal, with 90 per cent of children in developing regions and 96 per cent in developed regions enjoying primary education. All developing regions have also achieved or are close to achieving gender parity at the primary school level. However, these gender disparities widen in secondary and tertiary education, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and South and West Asia. Some of the deepest discrepancies remain in the poorest countries. Globally, 80 per cent of adult women can read, but that compares to nearly 89 per cent of men, while in the least developed countries, only 51 per cent of women are literate.
Gender discrimination undercuts women’s prospects for education in multiple ways. Early marriages and domestic work take many young girls out of school. Sexual harassment in public spaces can confine them at home.
Biased teaching and educational materials limit fields of study, marginalizing women in the sciences, for example. Only 30 per cent of the world’s researchers in science are women. Even as more women enrol in universities, many stop short of pursuing higher-level degrees.
When 189 UN Member States adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, they made the education and training of women one of 12 critical areas of concern. They committed to equal access and financial resources for women and girls’ lifelong education, and the eradication of women’s illiteracy. They called for making education and training non-discriminatory, and for improving women’s access to training alternatives, such as vocational programmes.
Recent global progress towards universal primary education is laudable. But for women and girls, not enough. Women are still disproportionately out of school, and also impoverished, unemployed and stuck in the worst jobs. Education is their right and their lifeline to a better future.
IN THE WORDS OF…
Nicola Grinstead – Education needs to be reassessed, refocused and redefined
Nicola Grinstead is Chair of the World Board of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, a global movement of 10 million girls and young women in 146 countries, dedicated to supporting girls and young women to reach their full potential. In this op-ed, she emphasizes the importance of life-long learning, non-formal and self-directed education and engaging girls and boys to eradicate gender-based violence.
“Voices against Violence” curriculum mobilizes efforts to address the pandemic
Organization: UN Women
In Pune, western India, at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts’ (WAGGGS) World Centre, more than 50 national trainers and youth leaders from the girl guiding movement across the Asia-Pacific region gathered for the first regional “Training of Trainers Workshop” on delivering “Voices against Violence,” a unique non-formal education curriculum that will teach young people how to stop violence against girls and women.
Women in Science
Just 30 per cent of the world’s researchers are women. While a growing number of women are enrolling in university, many opt out at the highest levels required for a research career. In Bolivia, women account for 63 per cent researchers, compared to France with a rate of 26 per cent.
Coming of age, youth become gender equality champions in Kyrgyzstan
Organization: UN Women
Through summer schools and special youth workshops, students and teachers across Kyrgyzstan are learning how to empower girls and become gender activists in their own schools and communities. With the support of UN Women, more than 40 students and several teachers from seven regions of Kyrgyzstan gathered in the summer of 2014 to deepen their knowledge of gender equality.
Somali midwifery school helps tackle harsh conditions for women
Somalia has one of the highest rates of maternal death with one in 18 women dying from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. The Mogadishu Midwifery School sets out to change this by training over 1,200 midwives to assist in birth and neonatal care.
Education opens doors for Afghan refugees in Iran
Afghan refugee Nasibah is now an obstetrics surgeon in Iran, an achievement she and her family never felt possible. The 32-year-old obstetrician has treated over 700 patients in just a few months and says she has a “promising and fulfilling road ahead.”
Closing the science and technology gender gap in the Dominican Republic
Where: Dominican Republic
Organization: UN Women
Overcoming stereotypes, promoting interest in mathematics among girls, and eventually reducing the gender digital divide in the Dominican Republic is the objective of the project Gender and Information and Communication Technologies: Equality and Equity in E-Dominican, supported by the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality.
Source UN women