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The path to gender equality runs through education
© GPE / Kelley Lynch


Why gender matters in education

In focus: Girls' education and gender equality
UNGEI and GPE, with other partners, are helping developing countries identify gender barriers within their education systems and put in place strategies and policies to address them through their education sector plans. 


Countless times we’ve heard it said that education is the great equalizer. Education is the surest investment to break down social and economic differences between people.

Further, when done right, schools can unravel the most deep-seated inequalities based on gender. In fact, from our perspective, the path to gender equality runs through education.

Fundamentally, gender equality is about choice: equipping girls and boys, women and men, with the same knowledge and opportunities to make informed decisions about their lives.

Yet here we run into a flaw in our argument, because it is not just about equal numbers of girls and boys in school or about individual opportunities. For even where girls and boys have equal access to education, we know that gender equality is not a given.

In many countries, girls are the first to drop out of school, the first to be failed by the system. In others, it is boys who consistently underperform. And the system itself - teaching and learning tools and practices, classroom culture and how education is managed – can reinforce rather than break down beliefs about what girls and boys should do and be. 

For education to fulfill its potential to create a gender-just world, both girls and boys (and all girls and boys) must equally benefit from it.  The critical question is what will it take to achieve gender equality in education, and what will it take for schools to promote gender equal societies?


The education sector plan: a critical window

One thing is clear: to tackle gender barriers in education, a business as usual approach will not work.

For wholesale systemic change to happen, education systems need to be gender-responsive by design. Just as the design of a building originates with an architect’s plan, the entry point has to be the education sector plan (ESP).

As a country’s blueprint for education reform, the ESP represents a critical opportunity to embed gender equality into the DNA of all aspects of education – from the vision of the type of schools a country hopes to establish, to the way education data are collected and analyzed, to what policies are created, and how schools and education institutions are managed.

What we are advocating for therefore is gender-responsive education sector planning (GRESP). Building on existing tools for sound education planning, UNGEI, GPE and partners developed a guide to bringing a gender lens to this work. 

For this reason, on International Women’s Day 2017, with the support of UNICEF, UNGEI and GPE published the Guidance for Developing Gender-Responsive Education Sector Plans.