Discriminatory gender norms remain strong
For example, researchers note authoritarian and often highly gender discriminatory school cultures, with teachers using discipline and ad-hoc guidelines that reflect and reinforce discriminatory gender norms in the society.
Similarly, while National Statistical Office figures indicate that the number of child marriages is decreasing, possibly as a result of the recent Marriage Act (which strengthens legislation to reduce marriage under the age of 18), the practice of child marriage still remains pervasive.
In 2015, almost a quarter (23.5%) of girls and women aged 15-19 years were married in Malawi, and 42% of women aged 20-24 reported they were married before the age of 18. Child marriage is often associated with conservative social, gender and religious norms, which give little scope for the autonomy and decision-making power of adolescent girls.
All of this indicates that a coherent education sector plan should take into account many aspects of gender inequality that may appear beyond the remit of the ministry of education, and require coordinated efforts between different ministries, civil society groups and communities to bring about change.
What information, resources and approaches to measuring gender inequality and equality in education can those involved in education planning draw on?
If gender parity figures do not give us the full picture, what else should we be looking at? Areas in which richer information is needed include, for example, entrenched discriminatory gender and social norms that limit girls’ and women’s right to education, families’ approach in households to organizing work and managing budgets with regard to girls and boys, teachers’ attitudes and dispositions, which may pre-date any formal education they received, issues of school-based gender violence, sexual harassment and coercion, and lack of reproductive rights, which are associated with teenage pregnancy and early marriage.
One project looking into measurement of these broader facets of gender inequality which affect education outcomes is the AGEE (Accountability for Gender Equality in Education) project, an innovative collaboration between academics at universities in the UK, Malawi and South Africa.
The project recognizes how important it is to improve the measuring and monitoring of gender equality in education and to develop a range of tools to document practices that may appear unmeasurable. These, if described, even by proxy measures, may allow for richer insights and better coordination of research to inform sector planning.
The project team is working with UNESCO and other organizations, and through these consultations and discussions has developed two indicator frameworks that look beyond parity in numbers and try to measure gender equality more broadly, both in and through education, for use at the national and international levels.
At the national level, it is consulting with key partners in Malawi and South Africa on a dashboard of measures that speak to local conditions. In current drafts, the national dashboard comprises information on:
- gender and resources – financial, infrastructural, staff, ideas about planning
- constraints to converting resources into opportunities; for example difficulties in implementing policies, distributing finance or understanding gender and other inequalities
- attitudes of teachers, parents and students to gender inequality and gender equality that affect schooling
- gender outcomes of education (progression, learning outcomes) and beyond education, for example political and cultural participation and connections with health, employment, earning and leisure.
National statistical offices in Malawi and South Africa, academics and activist organizations are reviewing the dashboard and seeing how it can be used to draw out key gender issues to inform more gender-responsive education sector planning.
At the international level, in partnership with a team at the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR), a framework has been developed to monitor gender equality across countries. This uses the national level dashboard, but also draws on data that is already routinely collected across countries.
A range of multilateral and bilateral organizations (eg. UNESCO, UNGEI, UN Women, FAWE, GPE, DFID), key NGOs, academics and activists are being consulted to refine this cross-national measurement framework and consider its links to national processes.
The GEMR’s framework uses a three-pronged rights-based approach to gender equality: assembling information on the right to education, rights in education and rights through education. Six domains are monitored:
- educational opportunities (gender parity indices across all level of education and different educational aspects)
- gender norms, values, attitudes and practices
- institutions outside education or legislation forbidding gender-based discrimination
- laws and policies guaranteeing the right to education for girls and women, and gender-responsive planning and budgeting within the education systems
- education system institutions and the extent to which they are gender sensitive and responsive (resource distribution -finance and teaching profession; teaching and learning practices and learning environments)
- Outcomes of education (e.g. access to labor market, sexual and reproductive health rights and decisions, political participation, etc.).
Both the AGEE and the GEMR frameworks are aiming to help build education systems that take account of broader gendered barriers holding children back, especially girls, that identify strategies to address them, and then measure progress towards closing these critical gender gaps.
Similarly, GPE in partnership with UNGEI have been supporting developing country partners to apply a gender lens to education sector planning to advance this aim. Based on the Guidance for developing gender-responsive education sector plans prepared by UNGEI and GPE, with support from UNICEF, Plan International, UNESCO IIEP/Pole de Dakar, AU/CIEFFA, FAWE and ANCEFA, four regional workshops, reaching 25 countries so far, have helped governments, development partners and civil society representatives to take a deeper look at how gender equality needs to be considered at each stage of the planning cycle, including preparatory sector analysis.
This work will help improve how gender equality results are framed, monitored and reflected in education sector plans, strengthen accountability for gender equality results, and ultimately help achieve gender equality both in and through education – a positive transformation from which all girls, boys and our societies will benefit.