Education: the pathway to gender equality
The event spotlighted the role of education as a key enabler of gender equality and its role in breaking the cycle of harmful gender norms and stereotypes. This includes pursuing gender-equitable attitudes and norms, which benefits all young people and future generations. The discussion centred around two themes: “gender norms in communities through to society” and “gender stereotypes in schools”, with “young people in action to end harmful gender norms and gender stereotypes in schools” a theme mainstreamed throughout. Attendees heard from diverse voices, from a range of regions. These included youth activists, intergovernmental organisations, government representatives, survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), CSOs and foundations.
The event explored how “the path of gender equality runs in and through education” and how organisations like the Global Partnership for Education hardwire gender equality into their model of transforming education systems to address harmful social norms and gender stereotypes. Cross-cutting themes of feminist intergenerational partnership and young feminist leadership in policy and advocacy were also highlighted. The dialogue explored how to position education systems as key platforms to deliver on critical societal enablers that eliminate social and structural inequalities to education for all regardless of gender, especially girls.
Speaking in the first part of the event on behalf of Girls Not Brides, CEO Dr Faith Mwangi-Powell highlighted education as a pathway to gender equality, and the need to focus on girls who are not able to go to school. Education plays an important role in ending GBV, and Faith noted that
For every additional year a girl stays in secondary education, there is a 6-percentage point greater chance that she will not enter child marriage.
Faith further stressed the need for education policies to be underpinned by gender-transformative approaches (GTA) and to focus on eliminating gender stereotypes in schools, including through comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) for girls and boys. She further emphasised the need to tackle GBV, including through providing single-sex sanitation facilities in schools to prevent early dropout of girls from education. Finally, Faith addressed the importance of ensuring access to education for all girls, including through abolishing school fees, facilitating divorce for married girls/adolescents, and addressing the stigma around pregnant girls in schools.
The session facilitated a range of discussions on the role of and ways to harness education to end harmful gender norms and stereotypes in schools, including the importance of a whole-school approach and early childhood education to effectively tackle gender inequalities and stereotypes. The interconnection between communities and schools was also raised as a key area to address, including engaging communities on the importance of education for girls. Speakers further reflected on the need for quality education to ensure youth can go on to make positive changes in society and to the economy, noting the significant value that would be added to the economy if all girls had access to twelve years of education.
The session also highlighted the need to prioritise safety both inside and outside of school, including when travelling to and from school. The substantial risk and incidence of sexual and gender-based violence against girls gives rise to the need to ensure girls can access key support services and do not experience barriers, such as stigma, to seeking help. The need to work with boys in schools to address gender stereotypes and speed up change through gender-transformative approaches (GTA) and questioning gender power dynamics amongst all stakeholders was also highlighted.
The Global Partnership for Education’s Senior Gender Advisor, Sally Gear, highlighted GPE’s role as a fund and partnership that hardwires gender equality across everything it does, including supporting partner countries to find and tackle gender inequalities within and through education. GPE incentivizes strengthening gender within an inclusive system policy dialogue. Its partnership compact process at country level is used to identify a priority reform area based on a broad range of evidence that includes gender evidence and analysis, and ideally includes country level gender expertise in the team contributing to dialogue and strategic decision making in the compact development. Sally further noted GPE’s support to CSOs and gender actors to generate evidence and engage in the policy dialogue, and emphasised the role each partner plays in upholding gender equality within GPE processes. Holding each other mutually accountable for these roles is a vital part of the partnership. Sally also highlighted the importance of whole-system approaches in efforts to change social norms and address backlash, for example by ensuring wraparound support for pregnant girls to safely re-enter school without discrimination.
The intervention from the Silas Ngayaboshya, Director General, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Rwanda, further enriched discussions by bringing in the national government perspective. He provided insights on the Rwandan Government’s work to mainstream gender into the budgeting process as well as to document what is working to advance gender equality.
Several speakers also shared their personal stories relating to gender inequalities as a barrier to education, including themes around inter-generational influence, sexual orientation and gender identities, and gender stereotypes linked to cultural bias.
Call to Action
In their various ways, speakers called for and agreed that education planning that embeds gender equality at the heart of delivery has the potential to create communities where girls and boys can learn without the threat of violence and are able to engage with all opportunities and thrive irrespective of their gender.
In the time it has taken to read this article 56 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds