Covid-19 exacerbating education exclusion among girls

Although 180 million more girls have enrolled in primary and secondary education since 1995, the paper urges governments to tackle persisting discrimination to achieve equality for the next generation of girls.

“The education of girls and women is the first step towards a more gender-equal world”

Despite an increase across all levels of education, girls are still more likely to suffer exclusion than boys, the Global Education Monitoring Report, A New Generation: 25 years of efforts for gender equality in education explained.

Three-quarters of all primary-age children who may never set foot in school are girls, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said, explaining that “we are still failing the most disadvantaged”.

“At this critical moment, with Covid-19 exacerbating gender inequalities, we must renew our commitment to educating girls and women,” she said.

“We all know that education is the cornerstone of equality – and the education of girls and women is the first step towards a more gender-equal world,” Azoulay added.

Along with calls to eliminate gender disparity in education access, participation and completion, the report exhorts countries to ensure all pregnant girls and young parents are supported to go to school.

Active bans still prevent pregnant girls from going to school in Equatorial Guinea and the United Republic of Tanzania, the report highlights, adding that early pregnancy rates remain high in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Chad, Mali and Niger.

Teachers, school and career counsellors worldwide must have training to prevent negative gender stereotypes “spilling over into teaching and students’ subject choices”, while all curriculum and textbooks must represent females in a way that does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.

Globally, the percentage of females studying engineering or ICT is below 25% in over two-thirds of countries, the UNESCO report noted.

Additionally, all students must have access to comprehensive sexuality education to prevent school-related gender-based violence and reduced rates of early pregnancies, and more women should be encouraged to “help change social and gender norms” and act as role models for female students.

“This GEM 2020 Gender Report shows that the fulfilment of women’s rights is intrinsically linked to their education opportunities,” said David Moinina Sengeh, minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education in Sierra Leone and newly appointed chair of the Advisory Board for the GEM Report.

“Its recommendations must be put into action by all stakeholders to achieve full equality for the next generation.”

In 1995, 189 countries signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with the aim to advance the rights of girls and women.

Since then, the global enrolment rate for girls increased from 73% to 89% and three times more women are also now enrolled in universities.

Northern Africa and Western Asia have seen “particular progress”, including in Morocco where parity was achieved in 2018 compared to just 3 women enrolled for every 10 men in the early 1990s.

In 59 countries globally, women aged 15-49 from the poorest households are four times more likely to be unable to read and write than those from the richest households, the report contended.

“Despite encouraging progress, gender still plays a significant role in enrolment in many countries,” it read.

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