Module 14 Education and Gender Overview

Module 14
Education and Gender
Gender equality in education is crucial for Africa’s development. When a large
proportion of the population remains uneducated, this retards overall development on
the continent. Girls and women account for more than half of Africa’s population yet
they have far fewer opportunities than their male counterparts to benefit from
education. Of the 35 million children of primary school age in sub-Saharan African
who are not enrolled in school, 54% are girls and 72% of these have never been to
school at all1. Cultural practices and attitudes, lack of gender sensitivity within the
school system, and poverty are some of the major barriers to providing Africa girls
with a decent education.
“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman,
you educate a nation” Kwegyir Aggrey
Eikwe Catholic School in Ghana
UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report 2009
General Objective
Module seeks to provide a deeper and broader understanding of key issues related
to gender and education in Africa in order for the user to communicate effectively as
Specific Objectives
Module will enable the user to:
O create awareness on why it is important to promote gender equality in
O identify factors contributing to inequality in education,
O Engage stakeholders on issues concerning gender equality in education
O Examine measures that can be used to address inequality in education
though effective communication.
Expected Outcome
By the end of this module the user will be able to understand the key issues in gender
and education and be equipped to address them appropriately in their media and
advocacy work.
Unit 1 of this module discusses the current context of gender in education in Africa
and the barriers to gender equality in education. It looks at policy issues, the school
environment, socio-cultural issues and socio-economic contexts that have an impact
on gender equality in education. Unit 2 looks at measures that have been taken
towards gender-responsiveness in education and best practices emerging from
initiatives by governments, communities and civil society groups.
Unit 1
It is recognised that gender disparities in education have a negative effect on overall
development. Women who lack education cannot participate meaningfully in the
economy or in developmental activties of their societies. Conversely, ‘the
empowerment of girls and women through education brings immense benefits not
only at individual level but also at community and country levesl too. Livelihoods are
improved, families are healthier, civic education and liberties are enhanced. Educated
girls become educated women who have the knowledge, skills and opportunity to
play a role in governance and democratic processes and to influence the direction of
their societies in an effective manner.’
What is Gender?
Gender refers to the status, roles and responsibilities assigned to individuals by
societies based on their sex. Gender is socially constructed, and the gendered roles
and responsibilities assigned to men and women and boys and girls are culture-based
and differ from one society to another.
In a large number of African societies, the gendered roles assigned to girls and women
can be perceived as discriminatory. For example, girls are expected to be nurturing
and are given the roles of childcare domestic chores like cooking and management of
the home. Boys on the other hand are expected to assume leadership roles, have
more free time and their education takes priority. It must be noted that sex and gender
are two different things. Sex refers to the biological difference between males and
Gender disparities in African education today
The World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) tasked nations to achieve two
specific goals in relation to gender equality in education:
EFA goal 2
To ensure that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult
circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and
complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality.
EFA goal 5
To eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005,
and achieve gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring
girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals also set education and gender
equality goals for nations:
MDG 2, target 1
Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to
complete a full course of primary schooling.
MDG 3, target 1
Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by
2005, and in all levels of education not later than 2015.
However, although African governments have ratified these and other instruments
geared towards achieving both universal primary education and gender equality in
education, gender disparities are prevalent in the majority of African education
systems. Many African countries missed the gender equality education targets set for
2005 and will need to take concrete and urgent measures to meet 2015 targets.
Some African countries have reached gender parity in enrolment in primary education.
Only Mauritius and Swaziland have achieved parity in secondary education enrolment,
while Botswana and Swaziland are the only two sub-Saharan African countries that
have reached parity in tertiary enrolment. This means that in many countries African
girls do not receive primary education; and only a few reach secondary education
level. The situation worsens at tertiary education level, with only an insignificant
percentage receiving post-secondary education.
Experiences of Disparities
It must however be noted that, gender disparities do not always favour boys. In certain
countries, including Cape Verde, Lesotho, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe,
Seychelles and South Africa, disparities tend to favour girls rather than boys.
Factors contributing to gender disparity in education
O Poverty
Poverty is a major contributing factor to gender disparity in enrolment at school and
completion of education. In many societies in Africa, it is a common occurrence that
when families cannot afford to educate all their children and must make a choice,
preference goes to boys.
O Policies
Many African countries, for example, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda and Senegal have
specific policies in place to ensure girls’ access to school as well as their retention,
completion and performance. However, policies on their own are not enough. Policy
formulation and implementation of action plans should take into account the
specificities that have an impact on gender equality in education.
O Learning environment
A number of factors within the learning environment have an impact on gender
equality. In many cases, teaching practices and teachers’ attitudes do not give girls
and boys equal treatment or equal opportunity to participate and tend to discriminate
in favour of male students. This is particularly the case in Mathematics, Science and
Technology subjects.
Teaching and learning materials often aggravate this bias through stereotypical and
often negative portrayal of the role of girls and women. School environments too,
including school infrastructure and facilities, can be very insensitive to the physical
needs of girls and discourage effective participation, for example, separate toilet
facilities. Sexual harassment, from both teachers and students, cause many girls to
drop out of school. And pregnancy among schoolgirls remains the leading cause of
dropout for girls.
O Cultural attitudes and practices
Socio-cultural practices have an impact on how boys and girls participate in
education. Practices such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, vestal virgins
given to religious shrines are particular barriers to girls’ education. Religious beliefs are
also often used to deny girls an education. This is an extremely controversial and
sensitive area which people tend to look at with emotion. However it must be noted
that generally no religion bars girls from the right to education. Traditionally assigned
roles, principally domestic and reproductive roles, affect the total amount of time girls
spend in school, while herding and other roles affect boys’ participation. Many African
societies also believe that as girls will eventually marry and leave the family, it is not
worthwhile investing in their education.
I want to study peace studies and human rights because of my experience: the
fact that women and girls are victims of violence and their rights are
suppressed. I want to be in a position to change things for them. At the age 9,
I was a victim of early forced marriage. My parents were poor and illiterate and
their only option was to give me away in marriage. My sister was supposed to
get married before me but she refused. Dowry had already been paid for her
(she was about 11) and once dowry has been paid, it cannot be returned. So
my father decided I should get married
in her place. My sister and I decided to
run away from home. Our neighbour
was a student at AIC Kajiado and told
us about the rescue programme there.
I have a dream – I want to go toHarvard
for my Masters. It is associated with
great achievers and I want to be an
achiever too. But I have my community
in my mind. When you go and see the
light, you have to go back and spread
the light. Learned people have to go
back and be part of the change.
Faith Nenkai Meitiaki
20 years
Progress Made
Progress towards EFA and Millennium gender and education goals have been made
in a number of African countries. As noted, 15 African countries have reached gender
parity in primary school enrolment. For instance, ‘In Lesotho… parity was achieved
through public policies that corrected a bias against boys linked with livestock
herding.’ At secondary education level, gender disparities were reduced between
1999 and 2006 in two-thirds of countries covered by the UNESCO EFA Global
Monitoring Report of 2009.
Activity 1
Examine the specific policy measures that have been taken by your country to
achieve gender equality in education and prepare a feature on this topic.
Activity 2
Prepare a short and high impact awareness campaign on one of the factors
contributing to gender inequality in education discussed in Unit 1.
Unit 2
Initiatives towards gender equality in education
This unit looks at measures that have been taken by governments, civil society groups
and communities to create greater gender equality in education and best practices
emerging from these initiatives. These measures include abolition of school fees, nonformal education, mobile schools, community schools, curricular initiatives including
Science and Mathematics programmes, life skills training, affirmative action, genderresponsive pedagogy training, safety measures, community participation and mass
O Abolition of school fees
As noted in Unit 1 of this module, poverty is a major contributing factor to gender
disparity in access to and completion of education for girls. Abolition of school fees
is one of the key measures used to address this barrier to education. This increases
enrolment for both boys and girls and enables them to complete a full cycle of primary
education. Abolition of school fees eliminates the economically motivated choice that
poorer parents have to make about educating girls as well as boys. Other financial
incentives that have had a positive impact on girls’ access and retention include
scholarships, grants and stipends.
O Non-formal education
Non-formal education programmes provide an opportunity for boys and girls left out
of the formal education system to acquire education within their life contexts, for
example children from nomadic communities. Programmes include functional literacy
and skills training and are delivered in a flexible and often mobile manner so that
children’s normal duties such as farming, herding and childcare are not disrupted. For
girls in particular, these programmes empower them to be able to participate
effectively in the community and make informed choices on issues pertaining to their
lives. One such initiative targeting out-of-school village girls in Guinea provided
opportunities for over 5,000 girls to acquire basic education. Seven percent of these
girls were able to gain entry into formal schools.
O Mobile schools
Through mobile schools, teachers or facilitators move from one community to another
or accompany nomadic communities to provide education and training. Mobile
schools have been used to reach children in nomadic and fishing communities in
Nigeria as well as nomadic communities in post-conflict areas in northern Uganda.
This form of schooling involves flexible school schedules, open-air classes, collapsible
classrooms such as tents, and motorised boats used as classrooms for fishing
communities in particular. In Nigeria such initiatives have reportedly reduced gender
inequality in primary school enrolment by 85% and increased enrolment for girls more
than tenfold. For a more in-depth discussion of alternative schooling structures see
Module 12.
O Community schools
Community schools are built and managed by local communities while teachers are
provided and paid by the government. This provides schooling structures in
communities where schools either do not exist or are not easily accessible, for
example through long distances to school, and addresses parental concerns about
girls’ safety.
O Curricular initiatives
Various curricular initiatives aim to enhance girls’ participation in education and
improve their academic performance. For example, Science, Mathematics and
Technology programmes are a particularly important initiative to encourage greater
participation by girls. Many girls do not participate significantly or perform well in these
subjects and this is due to a number of factors, including societal and teachers’
attitudes about girls’ ability to excel in these subjects as well as biased teaching and
learning materials.
Initiatives that aim to demystify these subjects for girls include the Female Education
in Maths and Science in Africa (FEMSA) programme and FAWE’s Science,
Mathematics and Technology (SMT) programme . Some countries such as Ghana
have special SMT programmes in place for girls in particular but also for boys.
O Life skills training
Life skills training involve educating both girls and boys, but particularly girls, about
realities that have a direct bearing on their education and life chances. Issues include
sexual maturation, HIV and AIDS and other STIs and the rights. Such training develops
self-confidence as well as inter-personal and leadership skills among school children
and empowers them to be able to negotiate issues and make informed decisions that
enhance their personal development and potential for future productivity. The Tuseme
youth empowerment programme, originally developed by the University of Dar es
Salaam in Tanzania is one of such programme that has had a tremendous impact on
girls’ participation and retention in school.
O Affirmative Action Initiatives (AAI)
Many African countries have embraced AAI, for example Rwanda, South Africa and
Ghana have implemented policies and programmes aimed at bridging the gap
between girls and boys, men and women in the educational and other development
O Gender-responsive Pedagogy Training
It is imperative that at the teacher training level, curriculum at training colleges should
be engendered in order for teachers to acquire the skills and knowledge on gender
issues before they enter the classrooms. Once they acquire these skills they will be
able to address issues in the classroom through a gendered lens. These skills include
gender-responsive pedagogy training for teachers, gender sensitization, guidance and
counselling and child-centred teaching methodologies with particular focus on
Science, Mathematics and Technology (SMT) subjects.
This is an ongoing process that is currently being addressed in many countries on the
continent. However a successful implementation requires a holistic approach which
includes ensuring that educational materials and curricula are gender-responsive. This
requires systematic monitoring and evaluation and assurance of the process.
O Safety and Security
Generally schools in Africa do not consider the different needs of boys and girls when
it comes to provision of safe schools. For example, in areas where there are no
separate toilets for girls and boys, this gives rise to the incidents of absenteeism,
sexual abuse and high incidents of girls dropping out of school.
For example, when girls are not afforded separate toilets at schools, they do not attend
classes when menstruating for fear of being taunted by boys. Due to lack of privacy
girls are forced to stay at home at certain times and have difficulties in catching up on
time missed in class. This contributes partly to the high dropout rate of girls at school.
In addition, sexual abuse has a negative impact on many girls and often results in
teenage pregnancy with all the social implications related to it. A general lack of
security at schools, including fencing, exposes girls and boys to negative influences
and unforeseen dangers.
O Community participation and mass media
Community participation is vital in ensuring that girls and boys are exposed to gendersensitive education. Community involvement in school management and strong
sensitization and mobilization programmes are important to gain active community
support for improved enrolment, attendance and performance of girls. (Refer to
Module on Parental Education)
Community and traditional media also play an important role in disseminating
information on handling girls and boys education for the benefit of the entire society.
For instance, in many African countries radio, in particular community and private
radio, is widely used to discuss issues pertaining to gender and education. This is
one of the most effective ways of communicating and ensuring community
participation in education. Phone-in programmes, drama, discussions with experts
and programmes run by youth for youth are significant forums for community
participation. Television and print media also contribute to this process, for example
supplements carried in newspapers, youth magazines and youth television
programmes where young people are able to voice out their concerns.
Activity 3
Visit a school in your area and investigate the measures that have been put in
place to ensure the safety of school children with particular reference to the
safety of girls by interviewing key stakeholders including students. Pay
particular attention to the following:
O Distance from home to school
O School environment e.g. separate toilets for girls and boys
O School infrastructure e.g. fencing and secure access
Activity 4
O Design a media activity of your choice which demonstrates the importance
of community participation in education.
Given the challenges that we are facing in promoting gender equality in education in
Africa there is a need for media practitioners to put in place a plan to report these
issues in a sustained way. A systematic monitoring and evaluation mechanism will
facilitate monitoring of how the media covers gender in education and enable
advocacy work by communities, media practitioners and other stakeholders.
Supporting Materials
Give Girls a Break – Radio Play
South Africa soap operas
FAWE information
Further Reading
Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA, 2001). What
Works and What’s New in Education: Africa Speaks. Paris: ADEA.
FAWE: 15 years of advancing girls’ education in Africa.
3. Sept. 2009.
4. 11 September 2009.
UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report 2009.
Gender Equity in Junior and Senior Secondary Education in Sub-Saharan
Africa. Esi Sutherland-Addy. 2008.
USAID. Educating Girls: A Development Imperative. Conference Report, May
6-8, 1998, Washington D.C.
ADEA. Working Group on Higher Education. A Toolkit for Mainstreaming
Gender in Higher Education in Africa, Accra. August 2006.
Eileen Kane. Seeing for Yourself: Research Handbook for Girls’ Education in
Africa. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World
Bank Washington D.C. 1995.
African Development Bank Group. Checklist for Gender Mainstreaming in the
Education Sector with a Special Focus on Higher Education, Science and
Technology Sub Sector. January 2009.
Working with the Media on Gender and Education: A Guide for Training and
Planning. Institute of Education, University of London; Oxfam, March 2006.